Christopher Collins

Christopher Collins is an investigative journalist based in Abilene. The Wichita Falls native graduated from Midwestern State University in 2012 with a degree in Mass Communication. He previously has worked as a reporter at the Abilene Reporter-News and the Wichita Falls Times Record News, along with running a freelance reporting business. At the Observer, he writes about rural Texas. He can be reached on Twitter or at [email protected]

By Christopher Collins:

sid miller

Sid Miller’s Ag Department Knew About Dangerous Pesticide Violations in 2015, Did Nothing for Two Years

A state inspector found that USDA's fever tick teams broke state and federal rules by indiscriminately spraying poison and dumping toxic pesticides on ranchland.

On August 17, 2015, Harlingen rancher Danny Davis called in a complaint to the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA). Like many others who raise cattle and horses near the U.S.-Mexico border, Davis was caught in the state-federal fever tick dragnet … Read More

A wind farm near Amarillo

Inside the Coordinated Attack on a North Texas Wind Farm

Conservative lawmakers, an oil investor and other activists did all they could to stop a wind project in rural Texas, even as the state has increasingly embraced renewable energy.

Earlier this year, a Canadian energy producer was poised to build two large wind farms in Clay County, a mostly featureless stretch of plains at the Texas-Oklahoma line. The 300-megawatt project would have bolstered Texas’ growing portfolio of renewable energy, … Read More


Heartland is an Honest, Poetic Meditation on Class in America

Journalist Sarah Smarsh’s book encapsulates what it’s like to grow up in the forgotten farm fields of America, artfully mixing anecdote with political context and societal commentary.

Having fun during a Kansas winter, as Sarah Smarsh writes in her new memoir, Heartland, requires creativity: “Lots of snow, no hills.” In one memorable scene, she recalls the time her grandfather Arnie hitched a beat-up canoe to an old … Read More


Documents Show Financial Entanglements Between Trump’s USDA Pick and Agribusiness

Mindy Brashears, a Texas Tech animal scientist nominated by Trump to lead the food safety arm of the USDA, is deeply embedded in the agribusiness industry.

Trump’s nominee to head the food safety division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture is deeply entangled with agribusiness. According to ethics documents obtained by the Observer, Texas Tech University animal scientist Mindy Brashears has earned at least $320,000 from … Read More

sunset commission

Lawmakers Killed a Plan to Shut Down 87 Driver’s Licenses Offices. That’s Good News for Voters.

The DPS proposed to close “inefficient” driver’s licenses office in mainly rural areas, even though it would have created an extra hurdle for voters to get state-required photo ID.

In a victory for Texas voters on Wednesday, a panel of state lawmakers unanimously killed a proposal to shutter up to 87 “inefficient” Department of Public Safety driver’s license offices in mostly rural areas. DPS issued the proposal after the … Read More


Beto’s Drawing Big Crowds in Small Towns. But What’s His Plan for Rural Texas?

Focusing on rural access to health care, high-speed internet and immigrant farm labor, O’Rourke’s rural platform looks to be cogent and cohesive, if still a little skinny.

Beto’s Drawing Big Crowds in Small Towns. But What’s His Plan for Rural Texas? Focusing on rural access to health care, high-speed internet and immigrant farm labor, O’Rourke’s rural platform looks to be cogent and cohesive, if still a little … Read More

Texas Legislature

In Boerne, a Youth Suicide Prevention Effort that May Actually Work

Boerne ISD was once in the grips of a student suicide crisis, but now a prevention program has kept the district suicide-free for the last three years.

A decade ago, Boerne ISD — an 8,700-student district on the outskirts of San Antonio — was in crisis. Students were inexplicably killing themselves at the rate of almost one per year from 2006 to 2014. Among them was a … Read More


In New ‘Spray Box’ Decision, Sid Miller Dances Himself Right Back to Where He Started

In a dizzying two weeks for the Texas ag commissioner, cattle spray boxes have been closed and reopened with little explanation.

Illustration/Sunny Sone For the last two weeks, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller has choreographed a dizzying do-si-do with cattle ranchers, state and federal regulators and a despised, eight-legged critter. It’s taken just 11 days for Miller to personally go to … Read More

sid miller

Sid Miller Ticks off Farm and Ranch Groups by Personally Shutting Down ‘Spray Boxes’

After some ranchers complained, the state’s agriculture commissioner halted 16 pesticide operations in South Texas that were allegedly misapplying a poison.

Remember when Sid Miller suggested that the entire “Muslim world” should be nuked? How about when he brought back deep fryers and sugary drinks to school cafeterias? Or when he was accused of exercising a horse by tying it to … Read More