The 18-month U.S. “great recession” ended a year ago, according to the federal government.

Nevertheless, no one told the economy. Since the proclaimed end of the recession a year ago, the economy has been like a lost marathon runner searching for the finish line and recovery after completing the 26-mile, and 385-yard course. The economy is still out of gas, struggling to find relief.

John Penson, Jr., regents professor and Stiles Professor of Agriculture at Texas A&M University, told the 29th Annual Agribusiness Management Conference in Fresno, Calif., that many economic indicators are worse now than they were when the government declared the recession over in December 2009.

“Things are a little bit better than the last time I was here (a year ago),” Penson told attendees at the conference sponsored by three departments at California State University, Fresno and Bank of America.

Fortunately, agriculture is faring considerably better than the rest of the economy. The latest USDA figures project that net farm income will increase this year to $77.1 billion, the fourth highest level ever.

Agriculture is being helped along with low interest rates and a falling value of the dollar, which is boosting exports.

This is particularly helpful to California agriculture, which exports roughly 25 percent of what it produces. Exports are also being bolstered by growing foreign economies like China and India, although those two have slowed a bit lately.

Fertilizer and fuel costs have stabilized for farmers, with prices lower than they were in 2008 in the middle of the recession.

Milk prices are also improving, another positive sign, particularly in California, the nation’s No. 1 dairy state.

“The ag economy is definitely coming out of the recession faster than the general economy,” he said.

That is saying something, but not much, after listening to a litany of depressing economic indicators.

Benson even suggested the U.S. could be looking at another recession right around the corner in 2011-2012, unless the economic situation improves.

The Obama administration’s stimulus package has not made a significant impact on the economy. At best, it is a “fragile recovery,” he said.

Many small businesses are hurting; foreclosures are high; most states are struggling to achieve a balanced budget and the list goes on.