For many Mid-South cotton producers, the growing season begins in early January, in the meeting rooms and halls at the annual Beltwide Cotton Conferences, where new technologies and cultural practices are discovered and discussed, where farmers exchange ideas and friendships are made and renewed.

The year, the season gets under way Jan. 8-11, at the 2008 Beltwide Cotton Conferences at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville. The National Cotton Council is the primary coordinator of the conferences.

The two-day Production Conference will focus on a wide range of timely topics — from the 2007 farm bill to insect/weed resistance management.

Gunnison, Miss., cotton producer and ginner Kenneth Hood, has missed only one of the conferences in the last 25 years. The value of information gleaned from the event keeps him coming back.

“As producers and ginners, we are being inundated with new technology and changing varieties in cotton. We're looking at increased production costs for fertilization, insecticides, fungicides. It's bombarding us.”

At the Beltwide, Hood will be looking for information “to help me make the right decision about when to apply inputs to my cotton crop, whether it's nutrients or water. And I'm wondering if there are things I can do to offset these high nighttime temperatures. And what I mean by that is I need to learn to irrigate better, to maybe offset some of these weather problems we have. I need to learn to control some of the hidden factors that are affecting my yields.”

In a past Beltwide, Hood learned about a new technology for defoliation, “which I applied the very next year to get better fiber quality. On fertilization, we're learning to enhance nutrient uptake in the cotton plant, from things we learned in the workshops at the Beltwide.”

Somerville, Tenn., cotton producer Bob Walker has been attending the Beltwide regularly since 1993. “I like the networking, seeing other farmers, making friends. It's always a good opportunity to see like-minded people and find out what they're doing.”

Like Hood, Walker sees the Beltwide conferences as an opportunity to synthesize the glut of information and new products in cotton. “Today, there is so much stuff coming at us so fast, whether it be seed, equipment or fertilizer. We need a place to see it, and then have some time to see what will fit into our system.

“You pick up on a lot that you can take back to your operation to make it more efficient, or make things flow better. We're always looking at what's coming down the pike, whether it's new varieties, seed treatments, mechanical, computer software.”

Louisiana crop consultant Roger Carter says attending the Beltwide “is necessary if I wish to maintain up-to-date information, network with various reps and researchers, and show support of the industry. I feel the networking is the primary reason for attending.”

Carter also attends as many workshops and technical conference sessions as he can absorb. “I am always looking for new ideas to pass along to our farmer clientele.”

Justin Cariker, last year's Farm Press High Cotton award winner for the Delta states, says, “We've learned new technologies at the Beltwide, like variable-rate applications using GPS. We've learned about minimum-till and the Paratill.”

Cariker doesn't mind discussing innovations he had applied on his own farm. “I'm saving a lot of money on inputs and applications and that's something I can share with people in the cotton industry at the Beltwide. We're all going to have to share information with our neighbors and friends, so we can all stay in the cotton industry.

“I guess the big topic this year will be the picker with the on-board module builder,” Cariker added. “It's a high-dollar piece of equipment, but I think it's where we're headed. A neighbor of mine is running two of the John Deere pickers. They're picking 180 acres a day with two machines and two men.

A three-year upgrade at the Gaylord Opryland will have been completed by Beltwide, including renovation of all its rooms and suites; improvement of its convention services facilities; and the addition of more restaurants. For more information, visit www.gaylordopryland.com.

Past and potential BWCC attendees will be mailed a flyer that includes basic information about the 2008 BWCC. The traditional information booklets will not be printed and distributed this year but are available at the BWCC Web site, http://www.cotton.org/beltwide. Specific details concerning the conferences and instructions for making room reservations also will be online.

The Beltwide Cotton Conferences' overall objective is sharing information among those with a stake in a healthy U.S. cotton production sector, including industry members, university and USDA researchers, Extension personnel, consultants and service providers. The forum's programming is designed to inform U.S. cotton producers about innovative and effective technology and methods that can promote viability in both the upcoming growing season and long-term.

The BWCC's objective is in accord with the National Cotton Council's mission of ensuring the ability of all industry segments to compete effectively and profitably in the raw cotton, oilseed and U.S.-manufactured product markets.