The 58th annual Beltwide Cotton Conferences have concluded in San Antonio, Texas, marking an end of the annual program in its current form.

Dwindling grower attendance and financial risks taken annually in guaranteeing hotel rooms by the National Cotton Council are among reasons for re-tooling the annual meeting, which brings together several research and professional components of the cotton industry.

The meeting, most likely with a name change, will be held the first week in January of 2014, in New Orleans.

Missing will be the large exhibition hall that annually houses dozens of cotton industry businesses. Without this corporate support, some contend subsequent Beltwide cotton meetings will be dramatically scaled back.

Exactly what the role the National Cotton Council will play in future Beltwide meetings isn’t clear, according to organization officials.

One of the highlights of this year’s meetings was a presentation by Joe Nicosia, executive vice-president of Louis Dreyfus Commodities in Cordova, Tenn. In his General Session presentation, Nicosia said the future of U.S. cotton growers is all about China.

He noted that China now owns approximately 46 million bales of cotton. With an annual shortage of cotton for their textile mills of about four million bales annually, China could conceivably not buy cotton on the world market for a decade.

Nicosia was quick to point out this is not going to happen, but it does emphasize the control China has in world cotton trading.

Consensus among several cotton marketing speakers at the Beltwide was that U.S. cotton growers will likely plant between 9.4 and 9.8 million acres in 2013. This would be down significantly from previous years, and dramatically from the 20-year average.

In 2013, two bales per acre cotton was common in the Delta and Southeast states, while three bales per acre was the state average in Arizona and California.

Drought continued to plague cotton production in the Southwest. Texas, for example, with 4.9 million acres of cotton, produced a statewide average of only 539 pounds of lint per acre.

During this year’s Beltwide conferences, four cotton growers were presented with Farm Press High Cotton Awards: Linwood Vick, from the Southeast, Johnny Little from the Mid-South, John Wilde from the Southwest and Chad Crivelli from the Far West were recognized for their outstanding cotton production and conservation practices during the meeting.

Joining the exclusive group of 76 cotton farmers who have won the coveted High Cotton Award over the 19-year history of the program is Harry Cline, editor of Western Farm Press, who has written about cotton production in Arizona and California for over 40 years.

Cline was presented an Honorary High Cotton Award in recognition of his years of service to the cotton industry. He will retire from Farm Press in March.

During this year’s Beltwide, Randy Norton, Extension cotton specialist at the University of Arizona was presented with the 2013 Extension Cotton Specialist of the Year Award.

The winner of this annual award, which is sponsored by Bayer CropScience, is selected by the winner’s peers from across the Cotton Belt.