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Optimism returns at Beltwide Cotton Conferences

Looking out the window a few days after 2011 Beltwide Cotton Conferences, the couple of inches of snow on the ground are not quite the “snowmageddon” that the weatherman had forecast. Still, it’s hard to believe that a new growing season is right around the corner.

The cotton season traditionally begins with the Beltwide, which was held this year in early January in Atlanta. It is the cotton industry’s first peek at the 2011 cotton production season. It is a time to put the problems, and successes, of the past season behind us. There are new cotton varieties to choose, crop rotations to figure out, plans to be developed for addressing pests and equipment purchases to consider.

Here are a few of my impressions about this year’s Beltwide, beginning with the trip over.

Prior to takeoff at the airport, we were told our plane was having operational problems and would not be able to climb to a fuel-efficient altitude. We flew all the way from Memphis to Atlanta at an altitude closer to that of crop dusting than to the jet stream. By the time I figured in the delays, security procedures and operational difficulties, I could have driven to the Peach State in the same amount of time.

Beltwide attendance was strong. Cotton producers were brimming with optimism over anticipation that the strong prices of 2010 could continue into next year. Cotton may have to share its crown with corn and soybeans, but it’s looking more and more like cotton acreage will increase from 2010. Several producers I spoke to in Atlanta have already started locking in cotton prices for 2011.

Glyphosate-resistant Palmer pigweed could be a limiting factor in cotton acreage next year. One message that weed scientists tried to drive home at the Beltwide was for growers to not plant any more cotton than they can manage. Weed scientist Larry Steckel pointed out that glyphosate-resistant Palmer pigweed will have outgrown susceptibility to herbicide at a plant height of 4-inches. Since the weed can achieve that size in just a few days under optimum conditions, there’s not a large application window.

Our High Cotton award winners put family first. As they accepted their bronze cotton boll awards at our annual High Cotton breakfast, Ray Makamson from the Delta states, Eric Seidenberger from the Southwest, Ronnie Lee from the Southeast and Bruce Heiden from the West, each heaped praise upon their families.

They also mentioned an extended family – the rest of the U.S. cotton industry.  Makamson noted, “The whole cotton industry is so organized, and we need that organization. We need to be represented in Washington in a way that we can use our strength.”

Members of various segments and geographies may wrangle and debate about how policy should be constructed, but when it comes time to reach a consensus, the industry presents a united front. The strength of the cotton industry lies in this principle. 

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