Precision farming – the keynote topic for this year’s Central Coast Cotton Conference – may save cotton farmers thousands of dollars in production costs. Lowell Zelinski, cotton physiologist and conference director believes that all of the pieces to the precision farming puzzle have finally come together and can now benefit growers.

Attendees will have a chance to learn more about precision farming at the conference which will be held Nov. 17-19 at the Cliffs Resort in Shell Beach, Calif.

"We’ve been saying for 20 years that someday precision farming techniques will save us money," Zelinski said. "I’m now convinced that all of the necessary segments are available, making precision farming a viable, practical practice."

For example, Zelinski said his clients are saving about $10 per acre on defoliation alone.

"All fields are variable in their growth with some portions of fields requiring more defoliant than others. With our ability to create zone maps and the applicators’ ability to apply harvest aids at variable rates, we can now tailor the most effective rates to the varying areas within the fields."

According to Zelinski, it’s no longer necessary to apply the same rate on the entire field that growers have typically applied to the most vigorous portions of the field. And not only is this better for the pocketbook, it’s better for the environment.

But saving the buck doesn’t stop there. Using precision farming techniques, growers can also save money on soil amendments, fertilizers, herbicides, seeding rates, plant growth regulators, and in the future, possibly insecticides.

Zelinski recently created zones maps to be used for variable rate applications for King Cotton Ag in Corcoran. Ranch manager Tim Sherrill said he’s excited about the possibilities.

Savings apparent

"We could immediately see (from the maps) how much we could save if we changed our rates," Sherrill said. "The fields in our ranch are real variable so knowing where to use more of a particular input is going to help us a lot."

Sherrill plans to use the zone maps for all sorts of inputs from soil amendments to plant growth regulators. Sherrill was planning to use an applicator map for defoliation.

"The numbers look good in cost savings but I haven’t seen it in the field yet. But there’s just no doubt that this is the direction things are going to go. The benefits are just too good," Sherrill said.

Zelinski said he’s confident that variable rate applications work, but he believes the real point of the technology is that growers are now able to manage their fields in smaller areas. He believes agri-chemical companies also benefit in the long-run because treatments produce the most effective and efficient results when they’re accurately applied.

He said the real challenge now is getting these tools into the hands of PCAs, consulting agronomists, farm managers, and chemical applicators.

"Now that this is a proven technology, we now need to educate others as to how it works," he said. "That’s why we set precision farming as this year’s keynote topic for the Central Coast Cotton Conference."

The conference is an in-depth look at cotton production practices in the San Joaquin Valley and a continuing education course for pest control advisors and certified agronomists. The meeting will include a review of the 2004 production season, as well as segments on cotton growth and development, pest management, agronomics and harvest. It’s designed to assist cotton professionals further their knowledge about San Joaquin Valley cotton production.

The guided-discussion format is a hands-on, interactive approach that synthesizes a large body of past research to assist attendees with their everyday cotton production decision-making.

Panel discussion

Zelinski will be assisted by Pete Goodell, integrated pest management specialist for the University of California Extension Service, who will conduct the pest management session. The precision farming session will be a panel discussion including: Kenneth Hood, innovative Mississippi cotton grower, past president of the National Cotton Council, and owner of InTime, Inc.; Kelly Dupont, also from InTime, Inc.; Tim Stone, representative for SmartImage; Doug Picanso of Digital Globe Agri-Watch; and Mike Gomes from Precision Farming Enterprises.

The conference will begin at 6 p.m. on Nov. 18 with an opening night reception hosted by BASF/Micro Flo. There will be an 18-hole golf tournament at the Avila Beach Resort hosted by Bayer CropScience on Nov. 18 at noon and the inaugural Cotton Harvest Hoedown hosted by Monsanto that evening. The evening will include a Santa Maria Tri-Tip barbecue complete with entertainment by cowboy poet, Bud Karrer and music by the Piper Heisig Four.

Registration is $175 and includes all meals and events for attendees. Spouses and guests are welcome and encouraged to attend, and can be registered for $50. Advance reservations are requested by Nov. 1. A late registration fee of $25 will be assessed for reservations received after Nov. 5.

The Cliffs Resort is offering discounted, ocean-view rooms for $134 per night based upon availability, and stays can be extended through the weekend. Hotel reservations are available at the Cliffs by calling (800) 826-7827 or by visiting www.cliffsresort.com. Be sure to ask for the discounted conference rate.

For more information or to register for the conference, visit www.cottonconference.com, write to info@zelinskiag.com, or call Becky Zelinski at (805) 434-0113.