It has been said that knowledge is power, and this has never been truer in agriculture, as farmers struggle to grasp the concept of a new, long-term farm bill in the midst of the most uncertain of times. Many growers in the lower Southeast finished the 2001 production year with outstanding yields and quality, but their good fortune was tempered by record-low commodity prices and the specter of what lies ahead in the form of legislation and general economic conditions.

So what's a farmer to do? At this point in the game, the farm bill — for the most part — is a done deal. If you wrote to your congressman, talked to your commodity representative and stayed informed, good for you. If you did none of this, learn to live with the consequences.

The competitive edge for farmers in the coming months and years will come in the form of knowledge. Those who learn to adapt will, with some luck, survive. Those who stop learning — who continue to do things as they have in the past — might be forced into a different vocation.

One ag economist noted recently that family farms, if they are to stay in business, are faced with three opportunities for production. These include: 1) Low cost, large-scale commodity production; 2) Medium, small-scale commercial production combined with non-farm sources of income; and 3) Production and marketing of specialized products.

Any one of these “opportunities” — if it is to be successful — will require that the grower be on the cutting edge of production methods, technology, marketing and the myriad of other factors involved in farming.

The first step in acquiring the knowledge that'll be needed to stay in business could be as close as your neighbor's field.

In a recent Southeast Farm Press article, we told about a farmer in South Carolina who made the decision to switch from conventional to strip-tillage. An initial step in the process, he says, was to “buddy” with a farmer who already was using the practice successfully.

Asking questions, especially of someone who already has made the transition, helps a farmer ease into a new and different practice. As the South Carolina farmer says, “It's best to ask a person who's already doing the practice. The people who already have been through the learning process can help you a lot. You eliminate the mistakes.”

In most farming communities throughout the Southeast, there's a least one grower who isn't afraid to try something new — who embraces change rather than resisting it. If you're not this grower, then maybe he or she should become your new best friend. Most farmers who are very good at what they do aren't reluctant to share their knowledge.

In this same article about switching to strip-till planting, it was stated that folks who use conservation-tillage have at least two things in common — they either picked up the practice after visiting a fellow farmer for ideas, or after going to a field day, meeting or conference.

Looking at the calendar for the remainder of 2001 and the beginning of 2002, there are plenty of opportunities here in the Southeast for staying ahead of the agricultural learning curve. County Extension meetings, state and national commodity conferences all offer the latest research findings, most at little or no cost to the farmer.

Here in the lower Southeast, the “meeting season” begins with the 2001 Georgia Cotton Production Workshop on Dec. 11-12 in Tifton.

In addition to informative general sessions, this annual conference features in-depth workshops covering all facets of cotton production.

The Georgia Peanut Farm Show, to be held in Albany on Jan. 17, will include an afternoon educational conference presented by the University of Georgia Extension Peanut Team. Then, two weeks later, the annual Georgia Corn Short Course and annual meeting of the Georgia Corn Growers Association will be held in Tifton on Jan. 29.

The Southeast Cotton Conference, sponsored by Farm Press, will be held in Raleigh on Jan. 22. We'll tell you more about this important meeting in our next issue.

And, cotton producers in the Southeast should have no problem attending the 2002 Beltwide Cotton Conference. It'll be held in Atlanta Jan. 8-12, with this year's theme being, “Technology - The Common Thread.” The Beltwide always delivers with its promise of being the “global champion for cotton technology research.”

These are only a few of the many opportunities that'll be available this winter for farmers wishing to increase their knowledge and stay in the game as agriculture enters an era of unprecedented change.