Today, I’m packing my bag for 2013 Beltwide Cotton Conferences, Jan. 7-10, in San Antonio, Texas.
For many Mid-South cotton producers, the growing season begins in the meeting rooms and halls of the annual Beltwide, where new technologies and cultural practices are disseminated and discussed, where farmers exchange ideas, and friendships are made and renewed.
Things will be different in 2014, when the National Cotton Council changes the Beltwide format to a technical conference only and focuses its production meeting efforts on a regional basis. The technical meeting will remain open for growers to attend.
I’ll continue to attend the technical conference for three reasons. One, technical presentations are a source of good information, which I plan to glean. Two, the consultant’s conference, which has become a very popular and informative session over the last few years, will remain on the schedule. And third, I just won’t know what else to do with myself that first or second week in January. I’m supposed to be in a taxi, a meeting room, interviewing somebody, taking a picture, downing oysters or generally getting revved up for the new year.
You see, the Beltwide is, and always will be, a close friend who takes me out for one last hoorah after the holidays. The Beltwide is a big, gregarious, marathon of information sharing. I can’t wait to go, but am nearly always glad when it’s over, and I always marvel at the organizational skills and dedication of those who put it together and manage it.
And those memories.
I attended my first Beltwide, ironically in San Antonio, while still in my 30s. I could run, dance and stay out late. I’m 23 years older today. I have socks older than most people there.
The 2007 Beltwide Cotton Conference was held in New Orleans, only 16 months after Hurricane Katrina nearly destroyed the city. I’ve never seen a group of people so grateful for cotton producers coming into their town and spending a little money.
Only a few hotels could hold the thousands of attendees that the conference required in its heyday, but the Opryland Hotel – you either loved it or you hated it – did so with room to spare. You never had to wait on an elevator or leave the hotel for dinner. Of course you had to walk a 5K to get anywhere.
It’s hard to believe, but the High Cotton award, given to a producer from each of the four U.S. cotton-producing regions, has been going strong for 19 years. The award has been presented to over 75 winners at the Beltwide, and we keep finding new ones, with no drop off in character or qualification.
It’s hard to say how the impact of downsizing the conference will affect High Cotton, the numerous other awards and presentations, the lively interchanges between people or the way the conference seemed to light enthusiasm for the coming year. All I know is this year, I’m going to squeeze it for all it’s worth.