The winners are survivors of some of the most difficult economic and environmental conditions American agriculture has seen in a long time. But they continue to keep conservation practices at the top of their priority list.

The recipients of this year’s awards, which are sponsored by Farm Press Publications through a grant to The Cotton Foundation, will be honored at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences in Atlanta this week.

Deere and Co., Delta and Pine Land Co., Griffin L.L.C., Helena Chemical Co., The Seam and Syngenta Crop Protection are co-sponsors of the awards, which were begun by the Farm Press, a Division of Primedia Business Magazines and Media, at the 1995 Beltwide Cotton Conferences.

“The land is our livelihood, so we take care of it,” says Jackie Burris, a Wellman, Texas, producer who will receive the High Cotton award for the Southwest along with his brothers, Terrie and Rickie.

The Burrises farm 3,000 acres of irrigated cotton and 2,000 dryland acres of cotton and milo on the Texas High Plains. It is not the most hospitable environment for row-crop agriculture, they say.

“Our sandy soil is highly erodible,” Jackie says. “We use minimum tillage on almost all our irrigated acreage and do everything we can to keep the land from blowing. Once we let a field start blowing it’s hard to control it until we deep plow it again.”

George Franklin, Jr., the Mid-South winner, is a veteran conservationist whose innovations have been adopted by many of his neighbors.

“I started getting into conservationism in the 1940s,” says Franklin, whose family has farmed in the Holly Ridge, La., area since the early 1900s. “I’ve always been a big hunter and wanted to be able to do that while helping fix my land.”

Franklin, who farms with his three sons, plants wheat and ryegrass for deer, floods huge amounts of land for ducks and plants filter strips with fervor. Black bear are seen around his thousands of acres regularly.

Daniel Burns, manager of San Juan Ranching Co. in California and the Far West High Cotton award winner, is tying conservation practices to his efforts to control costs and restore profitability to his farming operation.

“Daniel shows his environmental sensitivity by rotating cotton with tomatoes and using residual nitrogen from the tomatoes for cotton,” says Bill Weir, University of California farm advisor in Merced County. “This not only reduces costs, but increases yields and prevents groundwater contamination.”

John S. Williams Jr., a producer in Dooly County, Ga., and this year’s Southeast High Cotton winner, has been planting winter cover crops to help protect his cotton soils for nearly three decades.

“We’ve been growing cotton here since 1973, and we’ve always planted a cover crop of rye on cotton land,” says Williams. “Rye has a good root system, and it’s been proven to be more beneficial to our soils than other cover crops. If we as farmers don’t protect the land, then we won’t have anything left to work.”

“We believe that we have another very impressive group of winners,” said Mike Gonitzke, publisher at Farm Press who will give the opening remarks at the breakfast honoring the High Cotton award recipients in Atlanta, Jan. 11.

“These farmers, like thousands of other growers in the areas we serve, are the real environmentalists,” he said. “They strive to take care of their land while ensuring that their families can continue to enjoy their way of life.”

This year’s winners were nominated for the High Cotton awards by their neighbors, local Extension agents and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service specialists. They were selected for the awards by the editors of the Delta Farm Press, Southeast Farm Press, Southwest Farm Press and Western Farm Press.

Besides the recognition at the High Cotton breakfast and in the issues of these Farm Press Publications, they also receive an expense paid trip to the Beltwide Cotton Conferences. The latter will be held at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, the Hyatt Regency Atlanta and the Hilton Atlanta in Atlanta, Ga., Jan. 8-12.

For more information on the High Cotton awards, contact Sandy Perry at 662 624-8503 or by e-mail at sperry@primediabusiness.com. For more information on the Beltwide Cotton Conferences, contact Debbie Richter at 901 274 9030 or by e-mail at drichter@cotton.org.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com.