With the California cotton industry shrinking, the Central Coast Cotton Conference has become a uniting factor for those who remain in it. It is California's only cotton production meeting and focuses specifically on issues unique to California and the San Joaquin Valley — a fact that some believe keeps it near and dear to the heart on supporters and participants.

“The California cotton industry is such a dynamic industry, change is happening every year and our growers have to keep up with these changes to be competitive,” said Bruce Roberts, the J. G. Boswell chair of agronomy at California State University, Fresno. “This conference, with the format and informality and the information that's presented is an excellent forum for growers and PCAs to exchange information and gain additional insight and training in the production of cotton.”

Roberts, a former University of California Cooperative Extension agent, added that the conference also helps fill part of the gap that has been created by the attrition of extension personnel and the reduction of educational programs caused by budgetary restraints.

This year's meeting will be held Nov. 15-17, at the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa in Monterey, Calif. The conference is now in its fourth year, but its first year in Monterey. Conference organizers said the meeting outgrew its conference facilities in Shell Beach. They believe that the new location provides better meeting and trade show facilities, and great opportunities for networking and relaxing.

The Central Coast Cotton Conference was developed and continues to be directed by another former extension agent, Lowell Zelinski. It was Zelinski's goal that the conference offer fun, be interactive and offer a place for PCAs, growers, researchers and educators to meet, discuss issues and learn from one another. And so far, the formula has been successful.

“I am constantly amazed by the success of the conference,” Zelinski said. “Everywhere I go, including the real Beltwide, people come up to me and say, ‘I've heard about your conference.’ I am just so pleased about the support the meeting receives. I hope it will continue and more than that, I hope the meeting will continue to benefit the California cotton industry.”

But with acreage shrinking, this is no easy task. Each year conference organizers work hard to develop a program that will benefit growers and PCAs by maximizing the value of information presented.

“We realize that no one has to come to the meeting. We also realize that cotton is no longer the only crop that most growers are producing, and in fact, is no longer most growers' primary crop,” Zelinski said. “That's why this year's special session will focus on integrated farming practices.”

The session is called “Strategies for Success: Integrated farming practices that keep cotton in the mix.” It will focus on the new technology and techniques and the cross-utilization of equipment and resources that are being used for cotton and other crops.

The speakers include Tom Kerby, vice president of Technical Services for Delta & Pine Land Company; Roy Cantrell, vice president of Research for Cotton Inc.; Jeff Mitchell, cropping systems specialist for the U.C. Cooperative Extension and Kevin Lehar of Woolf Farming Enterprises. The topics include the utilization of drip irrigation in cotton and other commodities to what integrated farming strategies are being used in other parts of the world.

Cotton production continues to be the primary focus of the conference. Some new features for this year include a university research session led by U.C. Extension staff, as well as half-day cotton production workshop. There will be a trade show, golf tournament and guest activities.

Support for the meeting also continues to grow. The meeting is once again sponsored by Dupont, Bayer Crop-Science, Monsanto, Western Farm Press and many others. New supporters for 2006 include Dow AgroSciences/PhytoGen, Dunavant of California, and Western Farm Service.

For meeting details or to register, visit www.cottonconference.com or call (888) 238-6658.