Lawrence “Buck” Braswell says the worst thing that a farmer can do is get in a rut. “I was taught to be competitive and to learn all I can,” said the farmer from Raymondville, Texas, and one of the winners of the 2006 High Cotton Awards. “My daddy instilled it in me, and I've tried to pass it on.
“I've tried to never get in a rut, and I challenge all of you here today, whatever you do in the farm industry, to never get in a rut. Always be looking forward to something better, always.”
That kind of spirit has come to typify the winners of the High Cotton Awards. This year's winners were honored at a breakfast at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences in San Antonio. Braswell represented the Southwest; Cliff Fox, the Southeast; Joe Bostick; the Delta states; and Wally Shropshire the Far West.
The awards are sponsored by Farm Press Publications through a grant to The Cotton Foundation. Cosponsors of the 2006 awards include Beltwide Cotton Cooperative, Beltwide Cotton Genetics, Croplan Genetics Brand Cotton Seed, Delta and Pine Land Company, John Deere, Helena Chemical Company, Monsanto, Syngenta, The Seam, and U.S. Borax.
“The High Cotton awards were conceived with the idea of recognizing what farmers are doing to achieve the goals of consistently high yields of top quality cotton while carrying out practices that protect natural resources and enhance the environment — demonstrating that these practices aren't just another expense, but they pay tangible, worthwhile dividends,” said Hembree Brandon, editorial director of the Farm Press Publications.
“This marks the 12th year of this program, and we're pleased to have been able to recognize dozens of outstanding growers for their contributions not only to the cotton industry but to environmental preservation and conservation.”
“We are very proud of this year's winners and the conservation ideals they represent,” said Greg Frey, publisher of the Farm Presses. “Each of them is dedicated to taking care of their land and the environment and leaving it better than they found it.”
Braswell said the annual High Cotton video depicting the winners and their operations brought back memories of more than just the past year.
“Looking at those pictures you were showing, I thought back about my 41 years of farming. I honestly can't remember not being on the turn-row. I've dedicated my life to farming, and it's really hard to think about it without getting emotional.”
Braswell said those 41 years have stretched from farming with mules and picking cotton with a sack to today's highly mechanized and technologically advanced cotton production systems. But he and the other winners are not ones to dwell in the past.
“There's so much in our hands today,” he said. “We have things that are phenomenal, things that we need to use because we all have competition from other countries, from our neighbors or other regions of the Cotton Belt.”
Ron Smith, editor of Southwest Farm Press, who presented the High Cotton Award to Braswell, said he first met the farmer at a Conservation Tillage Conference in Houston.
“Buck was a speaker at the conference and was sharing his knowledge about conservation tillage with other farmers, something I've learned he does regularly,” said Smith, who interviewed Braswell for an article in the High Cotton issues of the Farm Presses, Southeast, Delta, Southwest and Western Farm Press.
In accepting the award, Braswell said he believes U.S. agriculture is on the threshold of even greater breakthroughs that will help farmers survive the increasing competition it faces around the world.
“We have to be more competitive in America, and it's up to everyone in this room to start,” he said. “I've seen some things for the next three or four years that I can't believe, some that with the drought on our farm will be phenomenal and will help the whole country be more competitive. I hope I'm around for a lot of years because I want to see what happens.”
Joe Bostick, who farms around Golden in northeast Mississippi, said the bronze Cotton Boll award that he received as a High Cotton winner “is one boll that won't be shipped out of the country.”
He said he was proud that the award was produced in the USA and urged the audience of 150 to work to help make U.S. cotton more competitive and to make U.S. industry more competitive in world markets.
“I have faced a lot of challenges this year,” said Bostick, who has produced up to 1,200 pounds of lint cotton per acre on thin soils without irrigation. “And I've learned three new words: Don't give up. Those words have come to mean a lot to me this year.”
Cliff Fox, the Southeast winner from Capron, Va., thanked Extension agents and specialists Johnny Parker, Pat Phipps and Joe Faircloth, who helped him and his brother, Clark, get back into cotton in 1994 after the crop had all but disappeared from the Tidewater area of Virginia.
“I've learned that the cell phone can be a two-edged sword,” he said. “I spend a lot of time on it, pacing on the turnrow asking Joel Faircloth and other experts a lot of questions.”
Harry Cline, editor of Western Farm Press, noted that Far West High Cotton winner Wally Shropshire had once called the governor of California a thief for transferring funds from the California Cotton Pest Control Board's pink bollworm program.
“The governor tried to get even by not re-appointing Wally to the Fair Board, but Wally did call the governor of California a thief and he got the pink bollworm program's money back with interest.”
Shropshire, who has chaired the California Cotton Pest Control Board for 38 years, said he was accepting the High Cotton award on behalf of the board as a whole and for the cotton producers of California who fund the board's programs with a $2 per bale assessment.
“We formed this board back in 1967, and Jack Stone, who many of you in this room know, and I were original members of that board,” said Shropshire, who farms out of Blythe, Calif. “We got together last fall, and said we felt our appointment was kind of like a marriage license; that is, until death do us part.”
Shropshire said he wanted to thank Harry Cline for the 30-plus years that Cline has attended the Cotton Pest Control Board meetings and kept the cotton growers and the agricultural community informed about the board's programs and facilities like the pink bollworm rearing facility in Phoenix, Ariz.