Sustainability may be the common denominator for the 2020 Farm Press/Cotton Foundation High Cotton Award winners, but faith and family are the threads that weave through every aspect of each of the four distinctly different but curiously similar operations.
Matt and Kelly Griggs, Humboldt, Tenn., Mid-South winner; Dan Smith, Lockney, Texas, Southwest winner; Greg Wuertz, Coolidge, Arizona, Western winner; and Larry Ford, Greenwood, Florida, Southeast winner, expressed their appreciation for the recognition at the annual awards breakfast Feb. 28 in Memphis, Tenn.
Each of the 26th High Cotton Awards class recipients thanked God for the opportunity to do what they love to do and thanked their families for support and encouragement.
"I want to honor my faith in God for making this honor possible," Ford said. "Also, you never do anything alone; there is always a back force, other people contributing to the operation and I want to thank my wife, Ann, for her great support and I want to thank my family."
He also thanked his crop consultant Wes Briggs, "who has scouted my cotton for 20 years."
"We want to give thanks to the Lord," Matt Griggs said. "Without his guidance and grace, none of our accomplishments would be possible. We thank Him for the opportunity to do what we love.
"I want to thank my wife, Kelly, and our employee, Zach Wilson, for what they contribute."
He thanked his sister, Jocelyn Bundy, "for taking care of the books."
Better agriculture for future
Kelly said Matt is "the brains and science behind the farm. Constantly finding ways to not only keep us in business but to better agriculture for the future. And a big thanks to Andy DeLoach, our cotton scout."
"I thank the Lord who makes everything possible," Smith said. "And Reeda Cay. I was fortunate to marry the girl down the road from Dad's farm. She understands farming and she hit the ground running. She has been with me though the high spots and the low spots, but we've had far, far more good times than bad."
"As the other winners would agree, we couldn't have gotten here without some good mentors," Wuertz said. "The first are my parents, Howard and Julie Wuertz. Dad is 94 and mom is 93 and they are still getting around well. They set a good example for me by the way they lived. They taught me my faith and the power never to quit and to keep trying things.
"Dad led me into farming operation; he got me started with our farm operation, FAST — Father and Son Team."
He praised his wife Loralee for her support and "being a great mother."
Wuertz said high school and college professors taught him science and "how to find answers."
Cotton Foundation Executive Director Bill Norman praised sustainability efforts.
"Since its 1994 inception, this program has given much deserved attention to cotton producers who have made conservation practices a key component in their farming operations, demonstrating U.S. cotton’s efforts to reduce its environmental footprint," he said.
"I am grateful for Farm Press’ ongoing support of the High Cotton Awards and I am appreciative of the organization’s continued support and participation in The Cotton Foundation. Congratulations to this year’s winners."
"We are proud of this year's winning class and the conservation ideals they represent," said Greg Frey, Vice President, Farm Press. "Each is dedicated to taking care of the land and the environment and leaving it better than they found it. This year's High Cotton winners exemplify the best of the best."
Frey also paused for a moment to remember long-time Farm Press Editorial Director Hembree Brandon, who passed away last March, and long-time contributor Logan Hawkes, who passed away recently.
"We miss them and their contributions to Farm Press and the farm community, Frey said.
Farm Press staff extolled the virtues of this year's winners.
"Greg's agricultural heritage and understanding of water-thrifty technology comes from his father, Howard," said Todd Fitchette, associate editor, Western Farm Press. "Water and resource stewardship are important to him."
"Whether it’s installing drip irrigation and using tools to test soil moisture or altering tillage practices to improve soil and reduce labor, Dan is always ready to try new things," said Southwest Farm Press Editor Shelley Huguley.
"Larry is a teacher," said Brad Haire, Farm Press senior content director and Southeast Farm Press editor. "Whether providing livestock for FFA or 4-H events or sitting in a policymaker’s office in Washington, he's telling the good story of agriculture and working to make things better with an easy-going authority folks pay attention to."
"Raising cotton is a family affair for Matt and Kelly," said Ron Smith, Delta Farm Press editor.
"They expanded cotton acreage on their Humboldt, Tenn., farm several years ago, so they depend on family, including children Paige, 23, Nate, 18, and Carter, 11."
"High Cotton award recipients go the extra mile to protect soil, water and air resources, whether it's adapting older technology and farming practices to address current and anticipated conditions or 'adopting' new technology," Norman said.
The High Cotton Awards exemplify a new National Cotton Council initiative, The U.S. Cotton Protocol Trust, Norman said. "It is designed to demonstrate U.S. cotton’s efforts to provide responsibly produced fiber."
Sustainability, 2020 High Cotton Award Winners prove, is what they do.