KICKING OFF the 67th annual convention of the Texas Farm Bureau at a news conference in Arlington, TFB President Donald Patman said Texas farmers and ranchers are happy to close the books on the year 2000.

It was, Patman said, "another very difficult year," adding that agriculture is one segment of the economy that has not shared in the booming American economy.

"Many of our members are still facing near-record lows in commodity prices, and this was the fourth year, out of five, when devastating drought occurred throughout much of the state," the Waxahachie grain, cotton and cattle producer said.

Patman, who grows corn on his Ellis County farm, described corn prices that have been below the cost of production for the second consecutive year.

"These prices are lower than at any time since the mid 1950s," he said. "That cannot go on for very long."

Farm Bureau, he said, has been active in securing assistance from Congress, attempting to reduce the regulatory burden on agriculture, seeking to open new markets in places like Cuba and China and working to improve crop insurance and federal farm programs.

Patman said recent rains have helped, but most of that came too late, and even caused harvest time damage in some areas.