It's part reunion, part business meeting, part new product expo, and part technical conference.

It's also an opportunity to meet just about everyone who is anyone in the cotton business. And folks who go regularly say it's always well worth the effort.

That, of course, would be the Beltwide Cotton Conferences, scheduled January 8 through 11 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville. The National Cotton Council (NCC) is the conferences' primary coordinator.

“The biggest thing for me is the cutting edge technology I see or hear about at Beltwide,” says Danny Davis, Elk City, Oklahoma, farmer. But it's not just the presentations he tunes in to. He says discussing production techniques with other growers from across the belt is an invaluable source of information.

“I like to hear about what they're doing,” he says. “It sometimes just gives me a little more confidence that the way I'm doing things is the way to go.”

He says exchanges with other growers have been especially helpful the past few years as many new cotton varieties came online. “I realize that weather and climates are different but I want to see what these new products have done in other places and under various conditions, wet, dry and so forth.”

He says he sometimes learns “what doesn't work. That's valuable information, too, and it may save me money.”

Davis picks up a lot of information from what some farmers might think an unusual source — poster boards. “I spend a few hours each night looking at the posters,” he says. “Sometimes I see two or three posters of the same research project with different results, sometimes from different parts of the country. I get information from posters that I often don't hear in the general or technical sessions,” Davis says.

He makes mental notes about what he sees and hears at the conferences and lately he's been looking for information on nematode control. “We've been developing nematode problems in Oklahoma,” he says “and we have limited management options.”

He says he's tried some new products “with limited success,” and has gone back to using Temik at planting.

“But I pick up four or five things every year that I think might work on my farm.”

He says the conferences also give him a good opportunity to meet the industry's top research scientists and to pick their brains about production techniques. “You can always bet that if you see a half-dozen people gathered around a presenter after a session they are all concerned about the same problem you're thinking about.”

He says meeting research scientists sometimes gives him an opportunity to test new products on his farm before they are released to the general public. “That way I can get early experience on cutting edge technology,” he says.

“I've never gone to the Beltwide Cotton Conferences that I didn't think the education was enough to pay for the trip.”

Eddie Smith, Floydada, Texas, started going to the Beltwide in the mid 1980s. “I haven't been to all of them since then, but probably made 75 percent.”

The Beltwide provides “an excellent opportunity to network with growers from other areas and see what's going on across the Belt.

“I get to see people I don't see anywhere else.”

Smith learns from updates on production practices, equipment and technology. He says the conference has featured information on seed technology and variety development in recent years. He's picked up information about picker varieties and their adaptability to West Texas conditions at the Beltwide. “I grow all picker varieties now,” he says. “I don't use a picker to harvest it, but it's picker cotton. I get better quality and yields from these varieties. That's a major change in this area.”

Smith says marketing information available at the conferences gives growers an idea of what to expect from supply and demand and may help with sales and planting decisions.

“I see a lot of new technology at the Beltwide,” Smith says. “I always learn a lot.”

Barry Evans, Kress, Texas, farmer, likes the agronomic information he picks up at Beltwide. He says the Beltwide Cotton Conferences take “the greatest minds and the greatest research from across the Cotton Belt and puts them together in one place. In just a few days I can learn a lot about what's going across the belt. There is a lot of research in one place.”

He agrees with Davis that poster sessions provide an excellent source of information. He's recently looked at these posters for information on managing Roundup resistant marestail. “That's becoming an increasingly difficult problem in my area,” he says. “I had to cultivate and hoe in 2007 for he first time in several years.”

He says the poster boards offer ideas from four or five states on how to manage herbicide resistance. “I get to see different things that work.”

Evans keeps track of markets and politics on his own. ‘I read about the political aspects of cotton regularly,” he says. “The agronomic aspect of the Beltwide is more important to me.”

The Beltwide Cotton Conferences' overall objective, according to the National Cotton Council, is to share “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.”

For more information about the 2008 Beltwide Cotton Conferences check http://www.cotton.org/beltwide. Specific details concerning the conferences and instructions for making room reservations also will be online.

For more information on Gaylord Opryland, visit www.gaylordopryland.com.