Winners of the High Cotton awards sponsored by Farm Press Publications through a grant to The Cotton Foundation are quick to thank their wives, other family members and Extension agents and crop consultants who have helped them over the years.

Southeast winner Monty Rast did all of that, but he also made another observation during the breakfast honoring the award recipients at the 2007 Beltwide Cotton Conferences. “I am proud to be in the presence of all these wonderful farmers,” said Rast, who farms in and around Cameron, S.C.

Rast's comments were in keeping with the name of the High Cotton awards, which were presented for the 13th year at the Beltwide, which is sponsored by the National Cotton Council, this year in New Orleans.

“High Cotton is a phrase that means standing in the presence of greatness,” says Greg Frey, publisher of Southeast Farm Press, Delta Farm Press, Southwest Farm Press and Western Farm Press. “When you say someone's in ‘High Cotton,’ that means he's in a special group of people.”

Rast; Justin Cariker, the Delta winner from Dundee, Miss.; Barry Evans, the Southwest winner from Kress, Texas; and Gil Replogle, the western winner from Visalia, Calif., all appear to be standing in High Cotton when it comes to environmental stewardship and conservation.

“We are very proud to present the 2007 winners of the High Cotton awards to you,” said Frey. “Each is dedicated to taking care of his land and water and leaving his farm better than he found them.”

Besides implementing conservation practices on his 1,400-acre farming operation, Rast also devotes time to helping improve the environmental image of farmers where it counts — among South Carolina lawmakers.

“Monty is also well-known for incorporating wildlife into his farming operation, adding value to the land he farms,” said Paul Hollis, the editor of Southeast Farm Press who presented the Cotton Boll award to Rast. “He also is a frequent host to legislative groups to keep them aware of the challenges farmers face.”

“I know it is important to spread the news about what farmers do to protect the environment,” says Rast. “I get my legislator down to our farm to let him know how important farming is to our economy and to the environment.”

Cariker, who farms 4,000 acres of cotton that run from the casinos of Robinsonville to Dundee in Mississippi, also thanked his wife, Shelby, and his crop consultant, Bobby Basse, Tunica, Miss., for their contributions to the success of their farming operation.

“It is such an honor to be in this program,” said Cariker, who has been a participant in DuPont's Cotton Leadership program and FMC's Producer Information Exchange. He has also been a member of the National Cotton Council's Policy Education Program.

Besides working on developing “branded” cotton through his involvement in Signia Cotton Cooperative, Cariker has been employing a stale seedbed approach to cotton production, trying to improve his bottom line from both directions. He's also experimenting with no-till on a buckshot, irrigated farm, growing yields of 900 pounds per acre with reduced input costs.

Barry Evans, a producer who returned to the farm after spending several years working as a commodity broker, said the example set by his father, helped instill the environmental ethic he practices on his farm in him.

“When I left the farm to go to work in Amarillo, I told myself I was never coming back,” he said. “But I came to realize working with my Dad that I do love the farm, and I wanted to come back.”

To be honored as a High Cotton award recipient was a “very humbling experience,” he told those attending the awards breakfast in New Orleans.

“But being able to bring sustainability to your farming operation and making it work is a great message to send that people need to know.”

Replogle said he especially wanted to thank his father, Ray, for giving him the opportunity to farm and giving him encouragement when times were tough. “Many times I've walked away with a new spirit of encouragement, knowing he was with me all the way.”