It's a good time to look back at 2006 and try to celebrate the best of the year.

One is tempted to copy Dickens' best of times, worst of times cliché, but we are too clever by far for that and will just say that finding positive aspects for Southwest agriculture in 2006 poses significant challenges.

We could start with the weather. Farmers say this was one of, if not the, driest years they've ever endured, some in 50 years of farming. Drought set the stage for horrible wildfires last spring, resulting in loss of life, loss of livestock and loss of property.

In the summer, crops withered in the fields if they were not irrigated and cost scads of money to produce if they were.

It was a time to celebrate if you were a Democrat, a time to mourn if you were Republican.

Plains Cotton Growers Inc. celebrated its 50th anniversary, a half-century of service to the Southern Plains' cotton industry. We were privileged to participate in the festivities.

Renewable fuel production gained traction across the Southwest as gas and diesel prices spiked. Folks began to understand that one of the best solutions to energy independence is homegrown fuel. Ethanol plants are up and running, under construction and in planning stages across the region.

Ethanol and bio-diesel interest boosted commodity prices. Grain markets surged toward the end of the year and several farmers say they've booked profitable prices for their next crop.

Folks who had hay did well; folks who needed it paid high prices if they could find it.

Peanut acreage was down across the Belt, but folks with irrigation and adequate water made decent, if not exceptional, yields. Two tons per acre remained a consistent benchmark for a profitable crop.

Spinach farmers were hammered by a health scare but continue to be optimistic about future opportunities.

Fishing was not particularly good.

The Texas Longhorns celebrated a national championship in football and despaired over a late-season loss to Texas A&M: peak and valley in the same year.

I had the best piece of fried chicken I've ever eaten outside my mother's house at Jeff's Restaurant in Kress, Texas. The banana pudding wasn't bad either, not as good as my wife's, but way better than average.

I keep looking for the best barbecue in the Southwest. Sorry, but I'm still partial to Carolina pork.

If you like hot weather you had to love the summer of 2006. I don't and I didn't.

Fall rains gave small grain farmers something to smile about following two years of drought-plagued autumns. Wheat fields germinated quickly and grew off well, providing much needed forage for cattle and prospects of a good grain harvest for producers who plan to combine the crop.

Pastures began to recover following two dry years. Stock tanks now have at least puddles in the bottom instead of mud.

It was a tough year for most farmers, but we still found plenty with good stories to tell, good production practices to pass on and good humor to make our job a pleasure to perform.

Happy New Year.