In the 1920s, leaders within the U.S. cotton industry wondered if science could somehow be used to improve yields and profits for U.S. cotton producers. Eighty years later, a protein, a pheromone and a system of satellites orbiting the Earth, proved it could be done.

The results of the aforementioned discoveries and developments — Bt cotton, boll weevil eradication and the Global Positioning System, respectively — have helped forge a new paradigm of cotton production, one that continues to change each year.

For U.S. cotton producers, there is only one comprehensive theater where these new developments are on display and up for discussion — the Beltwide Cotton Conferences.

The 2006 Beltwide Cotton Conferences will be held Jan. 3-6, 2006, in San Antonio, Texas. Sessions will be held at the Marriott Rivercenter, the Marriott Riverwalk, the Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center and the Menger Hotel.

The conferences, coordinated by the National Cotton Council and its cooperating partners, consists of three days of individual reports, panel discussions, hands-on workshops and seminars.

The first day of the conference will feature two panel discussions, noted Dale Thompson, chief coordinator of the Beltwide Production Conferences and NCC manager, marketing and processing technology.

One will focus on the arrival of variable-rate technology — made possible by a satellite constellation in outer space called the Global Positioning System. Panelists participating include Southeast grower and consultant Carl Hobbs, researcher James Mahan, USDA/ARS, Lubbock and Gunnison, Miss., cotton producer and InTime, Inc., founder Kenneth Hood.

New insect concerns

Another panel will discuss the new generation of insect pests in cotton. The boll weevil eradication program, which uses pheromone traps to locate and eradicate weevil populations, and Bt cotton, which has a protein toxic to most worm pests, have changed the insect spectrum in today's cotton fields as well as the strategies for scouting and treating insects.

Year after year, the innovative grower panels remain one of the most popular Beltwide Cotton Conference topics. The second day of the conference will feature a panel including cotton producers Doug Wilde, San Angelo, Texas, and Justin Cariker, Dundee, Miss.

Attendees of the disease conference will hear how variable-rate technology can be used to deal with nematodes. “Populations of nematodes usually don't occur across the entire field, and the challenge is how we can direct our attack on where the pest is,” Thompson noted.

Workshop and seminar topics include:

Lygus and Stink Bug Workshop — Management, Control and Insecticide-Resistance: The workshop has been designed to address key issues surrounding this pest complex. Presentations will address sampling and thresholds, area-wide control and chemical control and resistance.

Disease Resistance in Cotton: The role of genetic markers and gene mapping in understanding and developing disease resistance in cotton plants.

CI's Precision Ag and Recordkeeping Software: Cotton Incorporated-funded research is developing a new system that will provide growers a one-stop shop for all their field history and business accounting needs which allow growers to make informed management decisions. The integrated software package includes modules for mapping, accounting, field and harvest records.

Cotton Economic Outlook: The discussion will center on the U.S. cotton situation, world situation, trade policy issues and market outlook for 2005-2006 crop year. Topics will include production costs both for the United States and other countries, the WTO, China and Brazil, and market outlook and risk management strategies.

New Developments From Industry: The annual seminar includes reports on new developments from agribusiness that show promise for cotton production, harvesting and processing. The program is divided into sessions highlighting the latest development in new cotton varieties and hybrids, crop protection tools, fertilizers and equipment.

In addition, NCC's Craig Brown is developing a Conservation Security Program seminar. Complete information will be available on the Internet prior to the conferences.

Three-day schedule

As in 2005, this year's production conference was shortened to three days. This includes shortening the general session on the second day to allow for a full complement of special seminars and workshops. All 12 cotton technical conferences will be a day and a half long and include poster sessions.

The response to a shorter conference, “has been very positive,” said Thompson. “Growers like it because they don't spend as much time away from home.”

To accommodate a lot of information compressed into a smaller time frame, the council has added a couple of features for attendees.

“We're working with the company scheduling our technical programs and workshops, Confex Podium, to place presentations and slide shows from speakers, if the speakers choose to do so, on a Web site accessible at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences homepage at www.cotton.org/beltwide.

Each attendee will have a registration number on his nametag, which he will enter to access the presentations on the Web site. Internet kiosks will also be available at the conferences sponsored by Syngenta, available for attendees who enter their registration number.

“There is another feature called personal scheduler,” Thompson said. “There will be a link on the Beltwide Web site, where you can surf the conference program and generate a daily schedule you can download to your laptop.”

For further information, contact the NCC's Debbie Richter, P.O. 820285, Memphis, Tenn., 38182 or 901-274-9030, fax, 901-725-0519 or e-mail Beltwide@cotton.org. The theme of the 2006 Beltwide Cotton Conference is “Strategies For Success.”

e-mail: erobinson@primediabusiness.com