Don't make any loud noises. I'm recovering from the Beltwide. It was in New Orleans.

I think that fruity concoction they call a hurricane at Pat O'Brien's is well named. It creates a perfect storm, two actually, one swirling clockwise in your stomach and another rotating in the opposite direction in your head. Not that I would touch one of those things myself, mind you. I only speak from close observation of other individuals with less restraint or more courage than I possess.

I can vouch for the seafood gumbo, however. The grilled redfish and tuna also lived up to and exceeded expectations. As did the bread pudding. And the sweet potato seafood bisque. And the wine and the … Oh well, you get the picture. I'm restricted to iceberg lettuce and carrots for the next two weeks.

Actually, I did accomplish more than just eating my way through the French Quarter. I attended meetings, visited hospitality suites, had numerous breakfasts at ungodly hours of the morning, stayed up way past my bedtime and caught up with friends, some of whom I've known for 30 years (since I was 10) and see only once a year at the Beltwide.

One evening I spent some 30 minutes I'll never get back in a voodoo shop on Bourbon Street listening to a woman (priestess, voodooist, whatever) discuss the various merits of specific gemstones and why one brings good vibes and others only trouble and heartache. But you never know when that information might come in handy.

The mood at the Beltwide meetings seemed pretty upbeat to me in spite of predictions of continued low cotton prices. Farmers across the Belt, for the most part, were still celebrating a good crop. Growers from the Southwest talked about the best crop they've made in years or ever. Most finally had the crop in modules, ready to gin, after weather delays set them back six weeks or more. Several told me they had about 10 percent left in the field but expected to finish that up with two or three sunny days.

They mentioned some micronaire problems and some bark and color discounts, but most say quality is better than they expected during the November monsoon season. And most take a long view of rain. It's money in the bank.

Dale Swinburn, Tulia, Texas farmer, ginner and one of the nicest men you'll meet this side of the Pearly Gates, said he had a bit more cotton to pick but was glad to have a full soil profile as he starts thinking about the 2005 crop.

Mike Tyler, our 2005 High Cotton Award winner, was glad to have his cotton out of the field and off to the gin. He had a right jolly grin on his face, but, based on my observations, that's not unusual.

Folks talked a lot about quality. Some complained that they don't get paid for it. Some complained that they get discounted too much. But all agreed that identifying what markets want and then providing it will be essential since the major market no longer is a domestic mill.

J.C. Banks, the cotton agronomist up at Altus, Oklahoma, detailed production practices farmers can follow to maintain quality in-season. And Steve Brown, J.C.'s counterpart in Georgia, discussed the role reputation plays in how an area may be viewed by cotton buyers. It's not always fair, he said.

The Beltwide always looks at change. That's why we go every year. And we'll report some of those changes in this and other issues.

Speaking of change, I've noticed changes in the folks I see at Beltwide every year. Most of the ones I've known for 30 years seem to be getting older. I assume it's too many hurricanes.

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness