In the area of worst news story, at the top of the list we must remember West, Texas, where a tragic fertilizer explosion claimed lives, threatened agriculture and greatly hampered economic stability of an entire region, and presented rippling problems and issues for agriculture.

Some 60 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded April 17 at a fertilizer plant, killing 15 people, injuring 160 others and damaging or destroying more than 150 buildings in the small, central Texas town, changing lives and livelihoods for hundreds more. Investigators are still trying to determine exactly what went wrong.

The tragedy has raised many questions about the safety of fertilizer storage, specifically ammonium nitrate, highly explosive when exposed to fire. In a state where agriculture is central to the rural economy, lawmakers have rallied emergency authorities to prepare for such events, but no laws have been passed to address the storage problem of liquid fertilizers. At best the incident continues to concern all who work with or depend on volatile chemicals in support of farming and ranching.

The mystery of politics and farming

Perhaps topping the list of the most misunderstood developments in all of agriculture this past year was the lack of substantial farm legislation in our nation's Capitol. Yep, this was on last year's list as well, so perhaps it is no surprise farmers and ranchers all across America are still looking for a resolution to this remarkable problem.

The current farm bill delay has ag producers far and wide wondering if Congress even has the ability to reach a consensus on how to protect and promote farming and ranching in the years ahead—or if they care. As the new year looms, most of us are hoping for and leaning on the continuing rhetoric that a new farm bill will be passed shortly after Congress returns from their long holiday breaks. In truth, few farmers and ranchers are putting a great deal of stock in a permanent and substantial solution to the many issues facing agriculture in the year ahead.

Also like my father used to say, it's a good thing rural folks are so downright optimistic about life and living and so positive about such important things as growing crops and sustaining livestock.