Last-minute Cotton Meeting Creates International Exposure for Texas Tech

Texas Tech Research Professor Dean Ethridge served as organizing committee chairman for this year's International Cotton Advisory Committee meeting.

Written by Jaryn Jones

The International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) is an association of cotton producing, consuming and trading countries devoted to creating and maintaining a healthy world cotton economy.

After the country planning to host the 2010 meeting backed out, the ICAC contacted Dean Ethridge, Texas Tech research professor and managing director of the Fiber and Polymer Research Institute, to see if Lubbock would be willing to host the conference in late September. The only catch: he had less than a year to plan.

“The U.S. had to do something,” Ethridge said. “Either hold the meeting in Washington, D.C., as a sort of truncated meeting that wouldn’t have nearly the industry interest it might have otherwise, or find out if the Lubbock industry would be willing to invite the ICAC to come here for the 69th Plenary Meeting.”

The association has held an annual conference since its first meeting took place in Washington, D.C., in 1940. Since then, the United States has held a primary position within the association and is responsible for hosting the ICAC meeting once every five years if necessary.

After “rummaging around” to select an organizing committee, Ethridge readily assumed the role of chairman and began to arrange speakers, programming and fundraising to assemble a meeting that would not only promote the international cotton industry, but Texas Tech as well.

Raising Our Profile

“Texas Tech’s involvement with the meeting was quite wide and deep,” Ethridge said. “Our professors and faculty contributed a lot to the presentations given.”

Delegates from 42 cotton-producing countries attended the six-day conference and attended sessions hosted by various industry experts and representatives. The College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources and the College of Arts and Sciences hosted the closing dinner of the meeting in the Student Union Ballroom. The dean of each college spoke briefly to familiarize the attendants with Texas Tech.

“One of my early intentions was to arrange an opportunity to raise our profile internationally,” Ethridge said. “Our graduate programs especially are a target for the international community.”

Amélia Sidumo, a Department of Plant and Soil Science graduate student from Mozambique, spoke on her experiences thus far at Texas Tech. Ethridge said Sidumo decided to attend graduate school here after attending the World Cotton Research Conference in 2007, with which Texas Tech was also heavily involved.

“We wanted to raise the awareness of the delegates in hopes that they would communicate the information about Texas Tech back to their respective countries,” Ethridge said.

Securing Our Share

The ICAC standing committee chose “Cotton Industry Growth Through Global Unity” as the theme of this year’s meeting.

“Whenever we get a chance to set a program, we are always going to tend toward something that fosters working together,” Ethridge said.

The theme illustrates the fact that cotton-producing countries should focus on other fibers, rather than each other, as the competition. Ethridge said the theme encourages the international community to stop cannibalizing itself and focus on what is strategically important.

“The rest of the world tends to forget the basic fact that cotton is competing with other fibers,” he said. “When you get into the global context, the issue for strategic survival of cotton is one of competing with principally manmade fibers.”

Ethridge said the world will only pay for the fiber it needs. Therefore, the international cotton industry must work together to exploit cotton’s advantages from both an ecological and human comfort standpoint.

“We are in many ways trying to pull the rest of the world’s cotton industries into a paradigm of market development in order to grow the demand for the fiber and advance technology on a global scale,” he said.

Advancing Technology

Ethridge said emphasizing technology is the only strategy for long-term survival of the cotton industry.

“The U.S. has always been committed to investment in research in cotton production,” he said. “This has produced advancements and technologies that benefit the cotton sector globally while expanding overall market opportunities.”

New technologies such as boll weevil protection, genetic alterations and seed varieties are examples of efforts to create cost-reducing and output-increasing farming methods. Ethridge said the meeting aimed to show the international community that technological change is the only way forward for the cotton industry.

He described the mission to maintain stake in the global competition as a constant struggle.

“I can readily understand a farmer’s aggravation of being on the treadmill of trying to increase productivity and keep costs down,” Ethridge said. “Global competition is a treadmill. You better keep walking or you’re going to fall off the back.”