For the past 26 years, it has been my privilege to represent the 17th District of Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives.

I would have been honored to continue representing you in Washington; however, this was not meant to be.

As a result of congressional redistricting, the voters of the newly drawn 19th District elected congressman Randy Neugebauer to represent you in the next Congress.

I took my first oath of office in January of 1979 and, in an effort to be as effective as possible, I chose to serve on those committees in the House where I thought I could do the best job for my constituents: agriculture, small business, budget, veterans affairs and, more recently, the House Armed Services Committee.

Agriculture is so important to the economy of West Texas, and I am pleased that I was able to spend my entire 26 years on this committee. As one of a handful of farmers in Congress, I believe I brought a unique and important perspective to this committee.

For the past eight years I have served as the Ranking Member of the Agriculture Committee, and I was privileged to co-write the 2002 farm bill with my friend and former chairman, Larry Combest of Lubbock. This was the fifth farm bill I wrote in 26 years. I am proud of what we were able to do to help restore the income protection safety net for commodity producers and to increase conservation spending.

As Ranking Member, I had a staff of 13 dedicated professionals who focused solely on agriculture policy, and I know that a lot of you worked with them over the past eight years.

It appears that the new Ranking Member of the Agriculture Committee will be congressman Collin Peterson of Minnesota. I have served with Collin since his election in 1990, and his policy interests reflect his Minnesota district: wheat, corn, soybeans, sugar beets, dairy and payment limits.

I am confident he will be an excellent Ranking Member and will continue the tradition of the Agriculture Committee and its staff of serving the national interests of agriculture to the best of their ability.

As your congressman for the past 26 years, it has been my pleasure to bring you a weekly agriculture radio show. While the topics have varied from time to time, price and weather have always been of tremendous concern.

This past October, the president proposed an assistance package for hurricane victims in Florida, to be paid for with an emergency spending measure. Unfortunately, the president's package did not include assistance for farmers and ranchers in other parts of the country.

I introduced legislation to compensate farmers and ranchers who were devastated by drought, flood, freezing weather and excessive rain in 2003 and 2004. In the end, the House leadership decided to provide Florida with emergency assistance, but the assistance to producers in other parts of the country would be paid for by taking $3 billion from the Conservation Security Program enacted in the 2002 farm bill.

I continue to be concerned that the cuts made in farm conservation will have dire consequences for the future of the 2002 farm bill and will probably pave the way for large-scale cuts in agriculture programs. I sincerely hope that I am wrong in making this prediction.

Our country is facing tremendous challenges, both domestic and international. The best thing we can do as patriotic Americans is to unite behind our elected leaders in order to build a stronger America and to leave a legacy that we can be proud of for our children and grandchildren.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to represent you in Washington all these years. Very few Americans have the privilege of serving in the halls of Congress, and I can tell you it is an honor that I will always cherish.

Congressman Stenholm represented the 17th District of Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1979 and was the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Agriculture for many years.