In 1994, Farm Press leadership created an award to recognize cotton farmers for doing more than making more bales per acre than other producers in the region.
At the time, folks who either didn't know better or simply had agendas that made knowing better irrelevant, chastised cotton farmers for polluting the environment.
Those of us who had worked with cotton (and other) farmers for any length of time understood that most of the criticisms were unfounded; we knew that farmers practiced resource stewardship more astutely than most other industries.
Conserving soil, protecting water resources and using chemicals judiciously made sense, environmentally and economically. Farmers, then and now, respected the land, protected it and vowed to make it better during their tenure as caretaker.
Many were initiating reduced tillage practices on their operations; many had used terracing, grassed waterways, and IPM programs to reduce environmental footprints.
Creating an award that recognized cotton farmers who practiced exceptional resource stewardship made sense. The High Cotton Award came to fruition out of that understanding.
The next challenge for Farm Press was finding farmers who met the High Cotton Award standard, one for each of our coverage areas — Southeast, Delta, Southwest and Western. Turned out, that was the easy part.
We look for excellent farmers who produce good yields of high-quality cotton, farmers who show a strong commitment to resource stewardship and who give back to their communities, their associations and to the cotton industry.
We found lots of them. The hard part, then and now, is deciding which one to pick for a particular year. Those of us who have been privileged to help find these deserving cotton farmers every year express amazement (but not surprise) at the innovative practices they employ to make the land better than they found it.
Recent updates include soil moisture monitors, cover crops, efficient irrigation management, variable rate fertility, precision agriculture (seeding, spraying, PGR management). GPS technology provides data farmers use to make decisions on pest control, seeding rates and harvest timing.
They get better every year. I'm not sure how many High Cotton Winners I have been honored to interview and introduce at the annual breakfast and I always wonder how I will find another as good. I always do. This year's winners are among the best.
The thing about good farmers, they never stop getting better. When they find something that works, they try to make it work better. If a new practice, implement or variety shows promise to improve efficiency, they want to see how it fits on their operations. Early innovators show others the way to improve production, efficiency and sustainability.
The High Cotton Award, since 1994 has provided Farm Press editors with an extraordinary opportunity to meet the world's best cotton farmers. Telling their stories for 25 years has been a rare privilege.