AUSTIN (U-WIRE) - After graduating from Texas A&M in 1989, A.J. Kresta decided he wanted to follow his dream of becoming a farmer like his father and grandfather. Nine years later he has called it quits.

"The economics don't add up. The government programs don't add up. There is no way I can encourage my son to go into farming," said Kresta, who has endured a $75,000 cash-flow shortage this year. "We need some changes and we need some help."

Kresta, like many other Texas farmers and ranchers, has been hit hard this year by a combination of drought and low crop prices.

Texas agriculture has suffered an estimated $2.1 billion in losses this year and that number is expected to rise - possibly to as high as $5 billion - by the end of the year.

State democratic leaders and Texas farmers gathered at the Capitol Wednesday to discuss the problems and look into solutions for the farmers.

State Agriculture Committee Chair Pete Patterson, D-Brookston, led the meeting, which included Speaker of the House Pete Laney, D-Hale, and Molly Beth Malcolm, chairwoman of the Texas Democratic Party.

About 10 farmers were also present at the press conference, many of whom said that this might be their last year in farming because of the drought.

Patterson said better monitoring of imported agriculture and beef, drastic changes in the crop-insurance program and price support floors for crops are needed to help farmers.

But he added that he was against federal subsidies. He also believes international free trade has hurt the Texas farmer.

"Free trade sounds good, but fair trade is something else," Patterson said. "A Texas producer cannot compete with China in the production of cotton with their nearly slave labor. We can out-produce any country in this world if we have a level playing field."

Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, has also developed what he hopes is a solution to the farmers' plight. He created a proposal which would allocate some of the state's expected $6 to $8 billion budget surplus to be spent on relief for farmers.

The proposal will be voted on in the next legislative session.

Ogden's one-time program calls for reimbursing farmers for 30 percent of their feed, seed and fertilizer costs - up to $15,000 or two times their property taxes. Ogden said his program will cost about $400 million.

"This program can't solve all the problems, but it will help a lot of farmers," he said.

In July, the U.S. Senate voted to give $500 million in emergency farm aid, but that has to be dispersed over many states, including Texas.

And U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said more than half of that amount will go to states in the Upper Midwest, which has also sustained large crop losses due to excessive moisture and wheat diseases. Farmers at Wednesday's press conference said the aid is just a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed.

"It's a nice gesture, but that is about all it is," Kresta said.

Patterson said current troubles have made the agricultural industry less appealing to a younger generation.

"We don't have young people that are involved in agriculture because it is not a viable industry to get into," Patterson said.

"We must have policy and programs to make it possible to make a living on the farm."

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