THIS IS the last issue of Southwest Farm Press for either the last year of the old millennium or the first year of the new, depending on which way you read the calendar.

Whatever. At any rate, we always set aside a portion of this issue to reflect on the past year and lessons we can learn and pass on. We call it the Best of 2000.

For me, the Best of 2000 can be summed up in the farmers I was privileged to meet and interview. Unfortunately, I can't list them all and probably couldn't even remember all the people I've talked to without digging back through a year's worth of back issues and dusty notes. My mind ain't what it used to be.

I can say that I did not meet a farmer this year who did not teach me something. That may be a testament to my deepening ignorance or to the depth of knowledge the subjects of our stories displayed. I prefer to think the latter is more likely.

Lessons I've learned include: When a farmer advises me to be careful when a west Texas dust storm is brewing, I will listen. Getting caught on a lonesome stretch of highway with wind, dust, small farm buildings and other debris rushing past your windshield makes you appreciate the structural soundness of brick walls.

A west Texas sunset is one of the most colorful, brilliant, beautiful events in nature. I've stopped on numerous occasions to marvel at the grandeur.

Rivers in the Southwest aren't necessarily wet.

Farmers in the Southwest are among the best people in the world. And I have been honored to meet some of the finest this year. Getting to know J.B. Cooper, Roscoe, Texas, and his neighbors, Cliff Etheredge, Daylon Althof, and Randall Bankhead, was among the best things of 2000. I'm still amazed at the resiliency of farmers who eke out a living from the arid West Texas climate.

James Martin, our first Southwest Peanut Profitability Award winner, is a true gentleman, an excellent farmer and a gracious host. Getting to know James, his wife, Sharlene, and son Glenn ranks toward the top of the list of the Best of 2000.

I spent a wonderful day keeping Doc and Danny Davis, Elk City, Okla., cotton farmers, from doing any meaningful work while they squired me around the county, pointing out good cotton fields, new gin equipment and the ravages of a long drought.

And Mrs. Davis made the best chocolate meringue pie I tasted in 2000.

Terrell Hamann spent the better part of a busy afternoon explaining how he survived a couple of drought years and then let me ride his combine to see firsthand how well the corn was picking.

Kevin Huffman, a young McLennan County, Texas, farmer, impressed me with his business savvy and his no-fail attitude. If he's the future of agriculture, we need not worry about our food supply.

Vicki Patschke, a Lubbock, Texas, farmer, worked diligently to support a Boll Weevil Eradication Program for the Southern High Plains/Caprock area. The referendum passed in November and she was elected to the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation, Inc. board of directors.

I enjoyed having breakfast with Carlos Squires, a Caddo County, Oklahoma, peanut farmer and president of the board for the Southwest Peanut Growers Association, on a raw day in early October. The small cafe, about as far outside town as you can place a restaurant and still find it, was the perfect backdrop for an in-depth discussion of farm policy and how far legislators are removed from their rural constituents.

It's been a good year. Some good things have happened. Even though the weather was uncooperative for most of the region, most farmers managed to get by another year. Prices are still too low and costs are too high. And folks outside agriculture pay too little attention to the needs of the people who feed and clothe them.

Although unappreciated, farmers still are the Best of 2000.