At a time when many Americans are highly critical of “corporate farming,” the winners of the 2014 High Cotton Awards demonstrated that no matter how large the operation may be, U.S. farms are still, by and large, family-owned businesses.

Of this year’s winners from the Southeast, Delta, Southwest and Western regions, two farm with their brothers, one farms with his two sons and the fourth considers his father a partner and a guiding force in the operation.

This was the 20th year for the High Cotton Awards, which are presented by Farm Press Publications and Penton Inc. through a grant to The Cotton Foundation. Family ties were very much in evidence at the High Cotton Awards breakfast, which was held on the second day of the revamped Beltwide Cotton Conferences in New Orleans.

Delta states winner Kenneth Hood first introduced his wife of 48 years, Betty Hood, after he received his bronze Cotton Boll award that has been presented to each of the 83 winners of the High Cotton awards.

“We do have a family farm operation,” said Hood. “I couldn’t have done what Elton (Robinson, Delta Farm Press editor) told you I have done without my brothers, Howard, Curtis and Cary. They’re not here today because they’re at home in 10 degree temperatures checking bursted pipes.

Read about all 2014 High Cotton Award Winners

“Our father died 32 years ago. He died way young. But the matriarch of our family is our mother. She will be 93 years old Feb. 6. Physically, she is very strong, but with the cold temperatures we decided not to get her out in this weather. She would have been here had that not been the case.”

Danny Darnell, the Southeast winner from Hillsboro, Ala., said his sons, Jared and Heath, who he farms with, would have attended the breakfast, but they were in Pasadena, Calif., watching their alma mater, Auburn, in a heart-breaking national championship loss.

Darnell said he wanted to thank “my wife, Pat, and my two boys who farm with us and we’ll keep on trying to do the same thing we’ve always done. It’s worked for us so far.”

Southwest, Far West

Southwest winner Steven Beakley of Ennis, Texas, thanked his wife, Amber, and daughters, Audrey and Mattie, “for putting up with me in the summer months. And I want to thank my dad, Bob. He kind of paved the road I travel. He did all the hard work.

“I hope cotton will be around as long as I am,” he noted.

“I know a lot of people who probably deserve the High Cotton award as much as I do,” said Clyde Sharp, the winner from the Far West. “We all know that you have to have a team in order to do what you do. And I have a wonderful team, my wife of 49 years, Vicky, and of course, my brother, David, who’s my partner. We farm together, and without them there’s no way I could have been doing some of the things I’ve done.”

2013 High Cotton Award Winners

Sharp, who is serving as chairman of the American Cotton Producers and has held a number of industry leadership positions, noted that last year Dodge produced a commercial that used the voice of the late Paul Harvey who said, “God made a farmer.”

“He could just as easily have said, ‘God made an environmentalist,’” Sharp noted. “I think you and I all know that we, as farmers, don’t stay around very long if we aren’t probably the best environmentalists this world has. So I really appreciate the fact that Farm Press has seen fit to recognize those farmers who are willing to stand up and be counted and to go the extra mile to make sure we will be around 10, 20, 30 or 40 years from now.”

Hood, the Delta winner who will be planting his 54th cotton crop this spring, talked about the changes he has witnessed over the years.

“My middle name ought to be cotton,” said Hood, who has served as chairman of the National Cotton Council. “And I can’t believe I have lived long enough to see the demise of the cotton industry in the Mississippi Delta because that’s where the Delta was made – with cotton.

2012 High Cotton Award Winners

“Thank these sponsors of the High Cotton awards for their efforts. The only way we will get back into the cotton business like we once were is through increased yields. Prices, insects, weather we cannot control, but through the technology and those things that increase yields, hopefully we can get back into the cotton business.”

In the last 15 years, Hood has spent a considerable amount time on precision farming. “Looking into the future, I think we want to go into precision data management so that we can be more environmentally friendly and do those things that we’re supposed to do so these grandchildren will have a place to live, good food and be environmentally safe.”