As a journalist I attend many meetings, field days, and conferences to gain stories worthy of your valuable reading time, but also to chew the fat with others to learn about evolving agricultural issues. Many times those one-on-ones lead to even more interesting coverage of Western agriculture.

My father, Ed Blake, retired, spent 30 years in agricultural public relations plus a lifetime planting, growing, nurturing, and selling Christmas trees. He taught me that the best copy results from impromptu conversations. That’s where I gained my liking — walking up to strangers and initiating conversation.

There’s always much to discover at the annual Almond Industry Conference held every December in Modesto, Calif. The Almond Board of California (ABC) deserves “attaboy” kudos for the 2007 conference where 1,600 people gathered, up several hundred from 2006. The almond folks get it — providing valuable bang for the buck. The one-and-a-half day schedule in 2007 featured three tracks to professional development — production research, marketing, and global technical regulatory affairs.

ABC President and CEO Richard Waycott finds the time to chew the fat with growers, PCAs, and others. Agriculture is about people and in these days of impersonal e-mails and dispassionate text messaging, sharing a few words in person remains the most effective communication route.

For many years the California almond industry has remained an exciting sector for profit potential. Acreage is expected to catapult from the current 615,000 bearing acres to 750,000 by 2011 while global market demand is exploding.

As a young buck three decades ago I reported grain market closings aired on WJR, the number one radio station in Detroit. Corn in those days sold in the $1.75 range. As of mid-December 2007, March 2008 corn traded at $4.33. Wheat in recent days climbed atop the historic $10 threshold. Times are also great in the grain industry.

Could 2008 bring even greater price strides in agriculture? If cotton farmers continue their exodus for more immediate and greener grain offerings, cotton growers hanging on for the long term could be rewarded with a price turnaround. Let’s face it, they deserve it.

One of the largest benefactors in 2008 could be fruit, nut, and vegetable growers who will gain their first financial sliver from the next farm bill pie, the Food and Energy Security Act of 2007. Anyway you look at it – the consumption of healthy fruits and vegetables will increase. Western growers are poised for some good news and returns, as long as another E. coli catastrophe stays at bay.

A nagging concern for 2008 is the ongoing frustration for a dependable supply of farm workers across agriculture. In the West, perishable foods demand immediate labor. Washington lawmakers in general need to get off their duffs and perform their job responsibilities — making decisions based on America’s needs instead of reelection. Until enough federal officials act responsibly, finding and maintaining a labor supply will continue to cloud agriculture’s future.

One more wish for 2008 — my father, 82, is recovering from open heart surgery. I wish him the best so he can continue to grow and sell Christmas trees on the family farm in Mississippi and teach children about agriculture.

One of his best “chew the fat” stories is about two young urban girls who ran through my family’s Christmas tree plots with their school class in search of the perfect Christmas tree. My father shared how wood from trees is used to build houses. The girls, who said they’d never been in the woods before, were stunned to learn of this rural-urban connection. Their faces beamed in awe.

As we enter 2008, a tip of the farm hat to grapes, almonds, cotton, citrus, alfalfa, Christmas trees, and ALL the great food and fiber that you, our Western agricultural providers, so unselfishly provide. May 2008 become a year of many positive returns and healing for my favorite farmer, my dad.

email: cblake@farmpress.com