It has been a relatively good 2003 compared to past few years. Don’t think anyone wants to call the past 12 months a major turnaround and break into a chorus of Happy Days Are Here Again. Not sure American agriculture will sing that refrain again soon.

Nevertheless, there were bright spots in 2003. Almonds come to mind first. Another billion pounds; record shipments, and incredible promotion-driven demand from an industry that is selling itself out of huge production increases. Acreage is expected to take a 35,000-acre jump in next two years, and the industry will need to keep up the pace.

It was a relatively good year for Western cotton — certainly better than most were expecting in mid-summer. It is an average crop and most farmers are grateful for it. The highest futures prices in five years are expected to drive acreage up for 2004. I have not talked to a cotton farmer who has not hedged a bit of cotton. Much of the new acreage will come from old hay acreage taken out by dismal hay prices.

Tree fruit and citrus growers continue to have struggles, but there are bright spots maybe on the horizon as those two segments of agriculture grapple with needed change.

Vegetable growers again seem to have had a good year. It was spelled Romaine lettuce.

Grapes are coming out of the economic morass. Unfortunately, there are monuments to the impending turnaround. Those monuments are giant tombstones of pushed out San Joaquin Valley grapevines waiting for a burn day to be declared.

Most commercial business people say they have had a good year. Chemical manufacturers seem to have boatloads of new products coming, many for the Western crops.

The dairy industry is reported to be struggling. Sure cannot prove it by all the huge, new dairies going in California and Arizona.

One good year does not make the future. That remains as uncertain as ever. The 2002 Farm Bill continues to be an important underpinning for row crop growers, but there is growing concern that hefty federal farm support will be hard to come by in the next farm bill. Growers are looking at alternatives today.

As Thanksgiving passes and we move toward Christmas, the annual California mountain gazing continues to see if there will be enough snow pack to assure at least a percentage of contracted water deliveries. Unfortunately, many irrigation district growers continue to dig wells because they know that even with avalanche-sized snow packs, they will never again get their full entitlement.

Unfortunately for Imperial Valley farmers, it will not be a happy holiday season. They think they have been sold down the Colorado River by their own irrigation district. The fish took the water from the Klamath Basin farmers. It is the politicians and Southern California urban water purveyors who are taking water away from desert farmers at the other end of California.

e-mail:hcline@primediabusiness.com