As I reflect over this past year's events, I find that we still have a lot to be thankful for during this traditional Thanksgiving holiday.

Yes, we are enduring some very tough economic times across this country, but we still have many benefits that other parts of the world still envy. I am reminded of what my father used to tell me as a youth growing up on the ranch, when I would complain about not having the latest gadgets and comforts as some of my peers: "Just be glad you have a roof over your head and food on the table."

And yes, I was thankful for that.

Agriculture production this year was much improved when compared to last year's. Above normal rainfall early in the year helped produce some excellent crops. Despite some rain this fall, we are a bit on the dry side again, which makes me wonder if La Nina is going to be as dry as some are predicting.

We sure need to give thanks for the rain we have received, but at the same time we need to ask for more, so we can take advantage of outstanding commodity prices as we move into the 2011 crop season.

Jose G. Pena, AgriLife Extension economist-management, reports that adverse weather, a weaker U.S. dollar, increased exports, higher crude-oil prices and heavy commodity contract buying by speculative investor funds have contributed to increasing commodity prices.

"We're seeing commodity price increases across the board, but are looking at a situation relating to U.S. stocks of wheat, corn and soybeans," Mark Welch, an AgriLife Extension economist at Texas A&M University in College Station who specializes in grain marketing, said.

Welch said quantities of these grain commodities were all reduced in the recent Supply and Demand Estimates released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

There also has been a reduction in another significant agricultural commodity - beef cattle, according to David Anderson, AgriLife Extension livestock economist. Anderson reported cattle numbers will be fewer over the next decade, but the price of corn will dictate the level and spread in calf prices.

"I think we will continue seeing beef production and cattle numbers drop off in the next couple of years," he said. "We are forecasted to produce 25.4 billion pounds of beef in 2011 versus 25.9 billion pounds in 2010. That will lead to increases in price, but it also depends on corn prices and (their effect on) calf prices."

I read a report last week from the Association of Equipment Manufacturers indicating that record prices and rumors of continued climbing demand for food and fiber gave U.S. tractor and combine sales figures a significant boost in October over similar figures for last year.

If fact, in a recent report all tractor sales in the U.S. were up 20.3 percent over the same period last year, and combine sales were up 24.2 percent. It seems that the agricultural economy is headed in the right direction.

The USDA recently forecasted the consumer-price index for food would rise between 0.5 percent and 1.5 percent this year and between 2 percent and 3 percent for 2011.

Generally, however, the economists agreed that in spite of the commodity increases and the possibility of slightly higher food prices in the future, American consumers can still expect to have adequate supplies of the best and safest food in the world at the lowest overall cost.

As we think about that traditional Thanksgiving dinner, we did see a bit of a price increase on some the food items from last year. Menu items for a classic Thanksgiving dinner including turkey, stuffing, cranberries, pumpkin pie and all the basic trimmings increased by 1.3 percent in price this year, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

The AFBF's 25th annual informal price survey of classic items found on the Thanksgiving Day dinner table indicates the average cost of this year's feast for 10 is $43.47, a 56-cent price increase from last year's average.

So, as you spend time with family this week, be thankful for the ability to live and work in a free country that has the worlds safest, most dependable and affordable food supply thanks to our farmers and ranchers.

And finally, thanks to all our men and women currently serving or who have served in the armed services, as they have allowed us to keep the freedom in this country that we so much enjoy.

Jeffrey Stapper is the Agricultural and Natural Resources Agent for Nueces County. Readers may contact him at 767-5217.