It’s hard to explain the Beltwide Cotton Conferences. I know because I’ve tried for years. And the recent post to the company blog provided some insight on my personal connection to the event for almost 20 years! But I’ve gotten a few questions sent to me through email, tweets and Facebook posts so I want to take a few minutes on this wireless-free flight (yes, that bummed me out) and capture a few things while I’m high above what could be New Mexico, on my way to American Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting.
What makes Beltwide different from the other trade shows? Well, while that’s the question I usually get, I point out the name doesn’t include “tradeshow”! There is a trade show, but wow, there’s much more! Let’s start with the deconstruction of the name:
Beltwide – This is what almost all of us call it. We rarely go through the other which may be part of why people get the mistaken impression about the activities done here. The conference started decades ago and provided a venue for all of the cotton industry to get together. This follows the National Cotton Council’s charter in many ways. It is the one-stop place to go for information if you are in any of the industry’s seven segments: producer/farmer, ginner, warehouseman, merchant, crusher, oil mill, textile manufacturer or an affiliate of the industry like the companies who serve those audiences (that’s where I’ve fit in my whole time at magazines, agencies & suppliers).
Cotton – A shared commitment to that incredible fiber that gives me everything from the jeans I have on to the crispy beignets I had at Café DuMonde (yes the beignets are fried in cottonseed oil!) While this may seem like a narrow focus, cotton is an incredibly complex plant to produce and use. There is a lot to talk about!
Conferences – This is where we really get meaty. The topics covered in conferences can range from the very accessible mention of the latest advertising programs to something much more detailed. I’m working from memory and am certain to leave some out so forgive me if I miss your favorite:
- Production Conference – This is the biggie. It’s for all of the industry to come together and talk about the major topics impacting cotton currently and what’s on the horizon. I love being in a room with that much cotton know-how…. Thousands of people focused on cotton! (Yes, it gives me a rush.) This year and most, my favorite part is the grower panel. I love hearing from farmers from all our major regions talking about their year. Although it can be really tough when disaster has struck a region, to listen to a farmer talk about his most promising crop in years being sabotaged by 40 inches of rain. A crowd favorite is when a merchant/marketer provides their insight on prices and acres. This gets media attention ASAP and this year resulted in friendly competition from some of my corn tweeps (Twitter people) as the outlook said corn could lose acres to my favorite fiber.
- In the afternoon, the production conference breaks into a number of smaller sessions and/or workshops. Deltapine gets a particular charge here every year as this is where we publicly debut cotton varieties that will be commercialized for the coming year. Farmers like this too because all the seed companies are in one place and the presentation is required to be technically oriented, not marketing based. Our technical people present all of the data from the trials we have run – this year that included the results from close to 150 farmers as well as our extensive FACT testing program. One of the workshops that got a lot of interest this year was the sustainability workshop. Unlike the research sessions, workshops like this one are done with hosts and opening the floor for conversation.
Then the conferences start getting more technical.
- Insect Research – Since bugs are such a major force in the south, I don’t think there have been many Beltwides where I didn’t find myself in a room of entomologists and crop consultants. The topics can range from yield & economic impacts due to a specific pest to the latest testing program that may deliver the next big breakthrough.
- Weed Science – Like the insect conference, this has grown in recent years with the development of new biotech products. This year there was a lot of papers about the choices farmers have in weed contol traits as well as papers on the toughest weed we face – palmer amaranth (aka pigweed).
- Ginning & Engineering – This may sound straight-forward and it probably is for cotton ginners & engineers, but for a PR person like me, I find it amazing how much information is exchanged here. Sure there are some papers on new ginning technologies, but there are also studies on how to modify equipment or worker protection standards. And I still remember one year when the new variety we were introduced set a new standard in seed size – it was so small some ginners wondered if it would be removed from the lint full or maybe pulled through the saws.
- Marketing & Economics – The industry’s economists gather here to talk about everything from pricing trends to new statistical means of analysis.
There is a trade show to provide everyone a chance to interact with the members of the Cotton Foundation – those folks who don’t fit into one of the seven segments but play a support role in the industry. There is the cotton crafts & goods shop where I bought a t-shirt – our student intern Jillian wrote something up on that. Hope that makes it a bit clearer why I’ve been so jazzed getting ready for it and soaking it up. Nice that I get to continue onto Seattle for the American Farm Bureau annual meeting…. I already know a couple of cotton peeps I will see there!