Whether you're looking for a new approach to cotton production or a fresh way of looking at an old one, the 2004 Beltwide Cotton Conferences are the place to be, say cotton producers who regularly attend the event.

The conferences will be held this year at the Marriott Rivercenter in San Antonio, Jan. 5-9. The theme of the conference, “Today's Challenges — Tomorrow's Solutions,” addresses the rapidly changing landscape in cotton production, production technology, markets and ginning.

For Brownsville, Tenn., cotton producer Allen King, who will be attending his 20th consecutive Beltwide, the conferences are, “the best presentation of technical knowledge that a man can find anywhere in the cotton industry. Where we are today, losing the domestic mills and (often low) market prices, the only way we can compete against the cheap labor in China and Pakistan is through advanced technology.”

Information that King looks for at the conferences includes the latest on cotton varieties, GPS technology and the markets. King attended his first Beltwide Cotton Conference in 1985. “It's something we look forward to every year. We've got our reservations to San Antonio already booked.”

“The Beltwide Conferences are a great asset for producers,” said Hollis Isbell, producer and ginner from Tuscumbia, Ala.

“We made an effort to get started in precision agriculture on our farm several years ago,” said Isbell, who has been coming to Beltwide conferences since the early 1970s. “At this year's Beltwide, we want to see how it's being applied on other farms, because we want to stay on the cutting edge of the technology.”

John Lindamood, Tiptonville, Tenn., has been attending the conferences since the mid-1980s. At this year's event in San Antonio, “We will be looking at technology that's brand new and technology that's been in the pipeline a few years.”

Lindamood is constantly re-evaluating his production practices including his row spacing and planting patterns. “A lot of the information that we've put to use in developing our production system came from what we first heard or reaffirmed at the Beltwide.

The conference, “is also a good opportunity to visit with old friends and make new acquaintances. There is probably as much information shared in the hallways as there are in the presentations. It is a tremendous source of information for me just to visit with the other producers and academia who are there.”

A familiar face at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences, and never one to mince words is Bells, Tenn., cotton producer Jimmy Hargett. He will be there, “to see if somebody has a secret that helps us raise cotton cheaper, save money or have a better yield to help us stay in business.

“The American cotton growing industry has gone across the water and taught our friends (foreign producers) how to almost put us out of business. We are going to have to learn how to raise 60-cent cotton.”

According to Hargett, new technologies like Liberty Link cotton could help producers begin to reduce their costs. “You have to have competition with other herbicide-resistant cotton to keep prices down. Also, I'd like to have more information comparing plant growth regulators. I'd like to hear more about skip-row planting patterns at the Beltwide, too.”

Newellton, La., cotton producer Jay Hardwick says the conference, “is one of the best national arenas for producers to engage not only important traditional research on weeds, fertility, insects and diseases, but also emerging and novel technological solutions for cotton production in the 21st century.

“The Beltwide offers a great setting to meet and discuss the many challenges facing U.S. cotton production with other producers, researchers, industrial representatives and key policy makers impacting our cotton industry.”

Cotton producer Jay Jimmie Skelton, Shaw, Miss., says the Beltwide, “is a really good conference. Every cotton farmer ought to go because they put out a lot of good information. You can enjoy yourself, too.”

Skelton retired from farming seven years ago, and handed the reins of the operation over to his son, Steve, who also attends the conferences.

More information on the conferences is posted on NCC's web site, www.cotton.org/beltwide.

e-mail: erobinson@primediabusiness.com