Barring another "snow of the century," the Southeast Cotton Conference will be back in Raleigh, at the Kerr Scott Building on the North Carolina State Fairgrounds on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2001. Twenty-two inches of snow at the fairgrounds, 24 inches in my front yard, pretty well shut down Raleigh for several days last year, making it impossible for most speakers and farmers to travel.

That doesn't mean some didn't try. Jim Maitland, Extension cotton specialist in Virginia, drove down the day before. He was stuck in Raleigh for at least a couple of days. Several exhibitors set up their booths on Monday, in anticipation of getting an early start on Tuesday morning. I've talked to several farmers who spent the night in hotels in and around Raleigh, ready to visit exhibitors, hear excellent speakers and talk with their fellow cotton farmers at the Southeast Cotton Conference. Many of those folks got to know each other well as they met in hotel lobbies and restaurants, waiting for at least some of the snow to get plowed off the roads so they could get home.

I hope that adventure didn't discourage anyone from making plans to be in Raleigh in January. We don't have any control over the weather. But we can promise we will have another lineup of excellent speakers and exhibitors. Many of the exhibitors from last year have already claimed their spaces for this year's conference.

I'm still putting together the program, with a few slots yet to be filled. But the main themes are already established.

Cotton quality and contamination of cotton lint is becoming a hot issue among cotton millers. At least one mill has said they will purchase practically no cotton from the Southeast this year. Their reason? They have found an ever increasing volume of contaminants in the cotton lint from this year. In addition to the normal grass and bark, they are finding plastic bags and foreign fibers. Walmart bags are the number one contaminant found by Harriet and Henderson Yarns in Henderson, N.C. We have invited a buyer from Harriet and Henderson to address the problem and help growers make plans to keep these contaminants out of the cotton.

We'll also have a panel of growers and cotton marketers offering several alternative cotton marketing approaches. One grower will share his experiences with the newly formed Fibermax Cotton Growers Association, a marketing group hoping to encourage mills to pay a premium for high quality Fibermax fibers. We'll have representatives from at least one gin selling directly to the mills, a representative of Carolinas Cotton Growers Cooperative discussing their seasonal pool, and a representative from one of the major cotton brokers offering several marketing alternatives. These individuals will offer their analysis of the upcoming cotton marketing year as well as their advice on getting the most for your cotton.

Odd weather patterns across the Southeast, from drought in the deep South to extended wet weather in the upper Southeast, have led to cotton nutrition challenges. At least two speakers will explain the problems and show how growers can use such tools as petiole analysis, soil testing and precision applications of lime, nitrogen and other nutrients to head off nutrient deficiencies and increase cotton yields and profits.

As a special presentation, we have invited this year's winner of the Farm Press High Cotton Award to share some of the production practices that helped the judges select him as the winner. I'm not going to tell you who he is just yet. But I can say that he is from North Carolina, and he has a long and successful history with reduced-tillage and high cotton yields.

We have invited Extension Cotton Specialists Mike Jones, Keith Edmisten and Jim Maitland, from South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, to address topics they believe will give growers an opportunity to increase yields and profits in 2001. Entomologists Mitchell Roof, Jack Bacheler and Ames Herbert will bring us up to date on managing insects in Bt cotton, heading off bollworm resistance, managing plantbugs and thrips, and scouting for and controlling stinkbugs.

Other specialists, consultants and growers will help you evaluate cotton varieties as well as weed management systems.

The Southeast Cotton Conference has quickly become a tradition. From the first conference just a few years ago, growers labeled this as an opportunity to meet and get no-nonsense, straight answers to their questions from fellow growers, specialists, consultants and industry representatives. That's the goal again this year.

Watch future issues of Southeast Farm Press for more program details as well as for conference registration information.

Some of you who pre-registered last year asked us to hold your registration fee until this year. If so, we have your name on a list as pre-registered for the 2001 conference.

Mark Jan. 23, 2001, on your calendar. Line up a friend or two to bring with you. We'll see you in Raleigh in January.