About the time a cotton producer figures something out, a new technology, farm bill or production practice comes along, and the learning process starts anew. This is a good reason why you shouldn't miss the 2004 Beltwide Cotton Conferences at the Marriott Rivercenter in San Antonio, Jan. 5-9.

The theme of the conferences, “Today's Challenges — Tomorrow's Solutions,” will address the quickly changing landscape of today's cotton industry.

The forum's objective is speeding the transfer of current and emerging technology to U.S. cotton producers and other industry members — with an overall goal of strengthening U.S. cotton's competitive position in domestic and world markets and increasing industry members' profitability.

The conferences include The Cotton Foundation technical exhibit and the 12 cotton technical conferences covering disciplines ranging from economics to weed science.

Topics for the Cotton Production Conference Jan. 6-7 will include: a cotton breeding/improvement update; the impact of production practices on fiber quality and spinnability; utilizing crop rotation to maximize cotton profitability; and cotton export market development.

Here's a closer look at what the conferences have to offer:

Tough economic times have delayed cotton producer adoption of precision agriculture, but the technology has made incredible progress nonetheless. Today, cotton producers have access to yield monitors, variable rate applicators, satellite imagery for forecasting yield potential and even machines that sense soil variability.

Precision agriculture today provides producers with the capability to produce cotton by management zone, a proven technique for reducing costs and increasing yield. A precision agriculture panel will discuss the latest techniques and practices and tell how you can get started on your farm.

Precision agriculture techniques are being applied to other aspects of cotton production, too. Applied research in variable-rate irrigation will be discussed during the conferences. There will also be a session on cotton production using drip irrigation, which may be the way to go wherever groundwater shortages threaten to adversely impact cotton producers' bottom line.

Cotton prices have rebounded from below 30 cents a pound in 2001 to the 50- to 60-cent range in 2003. With Chinese cotton consumption headed toward a breathtaking 30 million bales, where could prices be headed in 2004? Memphis cotton merchant William Dunavant will provide his market place insights during a market outlook session. It's a can't miss for the market-savvy grower.

More than a year has come and gone since President Bush signed the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 into law. USDA experts, Extension economists and NCC staff have had time to study the nuances of this complicated piece of legislation, with its spread-out counter-cyclical and direct payments. Knowing how this law can work for you and against you is just as important as harvesting another 100 pounds of lint per acre. You can find out more on that at the Economics/Marketing Conference.

A workshop on the COTMAN crop management system will include a poster session and hands-on demonstrations of hand-held data collection units and the COTMAN computer software in addition to results of COTMAN research conducted across the Cotton Belt in pest management, irrigation, defoliation and other facets of cotton production.

“COTMAN and other cotton management systems are more grower friendly today,” said Dale Thompson, NCC's manager, marketing and processing technology.

“The NCC and CI believe these field-tested tools can provide growers with solutions now for responding to the challenges of efficient cotton production,” Thompson said. “Plus, this workshop also should provide crop consultants and Extension personnel the opportunity to compare and contrast the various field tested systems. The interaction that occurs in a workshop like this is a necessary step that is needed to improve these types of innovative production tools.”

The coming year will bring several new cotton varieties and seed technologies to the market as well. Find out about the status of Bollgard II, WideStrike and VipCot Bt cotton varieties during a biotechnology update.

In 1996, the U.S. textile industry was vibrant and steady customer of raw U.S. cotton, consuming 10.8 million bales. Meanwhile U.S. exports of raw cotton came in at around 7.3 million bales. Since then, we've seen a reversal of export/domestic use numbers and of fortunes for U.S. textile manufacturers.

In 2003, it is projected that the U.S. will export a whopping 12 million bales of raw cotton, while consuming only 6.6 million bales. The experts say the losses in U.S. textile mill capacity will very likely not be regained.

The important thing to focus on for cotton producers are the changes in quality parameters associated with the emerging foreign market. A session on cotton quality issues will address what foreign mill customers need and how U.S. cotton can continue to compete in the world marketplace. You can browse to www.cotton.org/beltwide for the latest information on the conferences.


e-mail: erobinson@primediabusiness.com