Beltwide provides a great place to catch up and catch colds

I just got back from the Beltwide Cotton Conferences, held this year at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn.

Yes, I got lost. I got lost on my way to my room, with a map in my hand. I stood in front of a room I suspected would be my main resting place for the next four days, sticking the key card in the slot, over and over and over again. No clicks. No green lights. I hailed a passing hotel employee and asked for instructions on unlocking the door. She looked at the key and politely suggested I try farther down the hall, where the carpet changed to the same color as they key card. Technology, you just can't beat it.

I'd like to say that's the only time I got lost, but it wasn't. I think I found six different ways to get back to my room in the four days I spent at the Gaylord. It's always an adventure.

It was another memorable Beltwide, despite my being misplaced for much of the time. Farmers from across the belt expressed optimism for the 2008 crop. They expect prices to be better than they've seen in years. Many Southwest growers stopped short of bragging (that would have been rude) but did confess to enjoying a good crop of high quality cotton in 2007.

Most expressed concern, however, over the rapidly rising cost of production and several offered possible strategies to conserve resources.

We hosted another quartet of excellent farmers at our High Cotton Awards Breakfast. Clint Abernathy, Altus, Okla., represented the Southwest admirably. Clint does a magnificent job of conserving soil and water on his farm without sacrificing yield or quality. Two sons, Justin and Jarod, work with Clint — an excellent example of how a family farm can work.

We had dinner together one evening, along with Roy Roberson, my counterpart from the Southeast and his winner and family. I think the count reached 16 by the time everyone was seated. Then Roy and I sat back and enjoyed listening to two accomplished farmers swap production techniques and farming philosophies over some fine cuts of beef.

I also enjoyed talking to Clint's wife, Kim. She's a public school teacher, and if there is a profession that's as unappreciated as farming, it has to be teaching. She had some pretty good stories about teaching first graders. I admire her patience and dedication and realize that none of us could be where we are today had it not been for teachers. I still remember my first grade teacher. I was reluctant to attend school, but she made it as painless as possible.

The Beltwide is also an opportunity to see folks I've known since I began my career in farm journalism. I run across cotton people I met when I was an Experiment Station editor at Clemson University back in the mid-1970s. And every year I see the man who introduced me to my wife. I always shake his hand. So far.

I spent a lot of time shaking hands with about a thousand of my closest friends. And I'm still wondering which one of them gave me the flu.

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