The Book of Proverbs teaches, “A wise man is strong; yea, a man of knowledge increaseth strength.” Southeastern growers have seen ample opportunities in recent weeks and months to increase their strength and knowledge by attending any one of the many informative meetings, conferences and workshops held throughout the region.

One of the unique things about the vocation of farming is that it's ever-evolving. There's always something new to learn, and there's never a shortage of people - Extension specialists, researchers, fellow farmers - who are willing to share their knowledge.

If you were one of the hardy souls who risked backaches, numbness in the lower extremities and indigestion from barbecue or fried chicken to attend a winter meeting, good for you. The information you gleaned from your efforts should serve you well in the challenging year ahead. If you passed on some or all of these opportunities, you might have some catching up to do.

As we come to the end of yet another “meeting season,” it's helpful to look back at just a few of the highlights.

Back in December of this past year, the meeting season in the lower Southeast kicked off, as usual, with the Georgia Cotton Workshop in Tifton.

Extension economist Don Shurley told the capacity crowd that the opportunity to update cotton bases is advantageous especially to growers in states such as Georgia, where acreage has risen significantly since the 1996 Farm Bill.

Under the old legislation, Georgia producers claimed a cotton acreage of 964,000. Since then, actual acreage has climbed to from 1.3 to 1.5 million acres. So it's easy to see how base updating represents a golden opportunity for Georgia growers.

Farmers attending the Georgia workshop also learned that while 2002 might seemed to have been an unusually bad year for insect pressure, it might have been the “new normal.” Compared to the number of insecticide sprays being made prior to Bt cotton technology, last year wasn't so bad.

At the Southeast Cotton Conference in Rocky Mount, growers received a wealth of information on new varieties and new technologies available this year. Clemson University's Mike Jones advised those in attendance to base their variety selection decision on yield potential and yield stability, above all other factors.

And, while this sounds like the most common-sense thing to do, few growers - only 22 percent in South Carolina this past year - are planting top-10 yielding varieties. Too many times, value-added traits such as transgenic technology take precedent in such decisions. If a variety won't yield, transgenic traits are of little consequence, says Jones.

The crowd of more than 1,200 attending the 2003 Georgia Farm Show in Albany were given the chance to hear the latest research on tomato spotted wilt virus - the top disease threat of Southeast peanut producers. The bad news is that there was a resurgence of the virus in 2002. The good news is that new varieties continue to be introduced that show strong resistance to the disease.

Keep following the risk index, say the experts, and you'll continue to avoid major losses to tomato spotted wilt. Growers also learned that a new risk index will be introduced in April to help reduce losses to other foliar and soil-borne diseases of peanut.

Also, some helpful advice from this winter's Georgia Corn Short Course held in Tifton - speed kills, especially corn yields. Agronomist Dewey Lee advises to slow it down when planting corn. You won't set any land speed records but you might add several bushels to your final yield. The sins made at planting, preaches Lee, won't be forgiven later in the season.

And if you were present and accounted for at the annual meeting of the Georgia Peanut Producers Association in Albany, you learned from the state's FSA chief that the USDA plans to close 200 of their offices nationwide. The good news, he said, is that Georgia already has implemented consolidation, and any further actions should be a minimal disruption to farmers.

This is just a sampling of the numerous opportunities for that are being made to Southeastern farmers. There are many others, including those held on the county level, offering growers that elusive edge they'll need to be successful in 2003.

e-mail: phollis@primediabusiness.com