HAPPY NEW YEAR! As interesting as 2000 was, I'm kinda glad it's over. Too much drought, at times; too much rain, at times; too much wind, most of the time; and way too much politics, every day of the year.

There was also too little money available in the cotton and grain markets and too many costs associated with producing those crops. There was too much talk about what the government ought to do about low prices, disasters, farm stability, etc., and too little activity to find long-term solutions to serious threats to rural economies.

Will 2001 be any better?

Probably not. But, I'm still too much of an optimist to give up this early in the year. I've been a journalist long enough to hone my cynicism to a fine edge, but I've managed to learn from farmers, who have to be the most optimistic people in the world.

Most farmers I've met in the two-plus decades I've been chronicling their activities look forward to a new planting season with something akin to a child waiting for Christmas morning. The anticipation is keen, the hope is eternal, the possibilities endless as yet unplanted crops take shape in their minds. Visions of bin busters dance in their heads.

And it makes little difference whether the last crop they made was a soaring success or a train wreck. It's a brand new year and anything can happen.

Trouble is, anything usually does, to some degree, at some point in the season. A good start on cotton planting, for instance, can be wiped out by early insect infestations or a mid-season dry spell. Tractors break down, irrigation systems fail, wells go dry and stink bugs, flea hoppers, boll weevils and corn borers wipe out what looked like such a good crop coming on.

Markets plummet, costs rise, profit potential plunges to perilous pits of poverty. I told you I'd honed cynicism to a fine edge.

But all that stuff will come later. Now, in early January, the beginning of only the second year of a completely new century, the slate is clean. New politicians - some are new, anyway - will take the reins of government and steer a different course. Might be a better course, might not. But it will be different. At this point, folks can only hope that newly elected officials won't do anything to gum up the works. With a tight balance in both the U.S. House and Senate, chances of anything drastic occurring are pretty slim. And that's probably good. Radical change is way too stressful for my delicate nature.

Another good sign. Climatologists report that both El Nino and La Nina are taking long overdue naps. Their tantrums are likely to cause fewer weather problems, allowing things to get back to more normal rainfall and temperature ranges. It seems to be working. I've endured more cold weather in the past six weeks than I did all last winter. And it has rained several times.

Prices seem to be inching up slightly.

Production costs, however, are not inching up. They are rocketing through the stratosphere. I know, more cynicism. I can't stay happy too long. It's bad for my image.

Back to farmer optimism. Even in the face of higher production costs, farmers, if not ecstatic about prospects for 2001, are at least resigned to dealing with escalating fuel and fertilizer expenses and are looking for ways to mitigate the damage.

They'll reduce trips across the field, pay attention to fertilizer rates, squeeze their pennies until Lincoln's face turns red and discover ways to improve profit potential.

That's what they tell me. And I believe them. In addition to being overly optimistic, at times, and overly cynical, at times, I can also be extremely willing to believe what folks tell me.

Let me qualify that. I don't believe phone solicitations, most politicians, any car salesmen and absolutely none of those signs at intersections guaranteeing I'll lose 30 pounds in 30 days (I wish!).

But I do believe farmers who have been in business for years, have been run through the wringer so many times their bones bend backwards and who understand the cyclical nature of agriculture. They endure.