Ronnie Lee has successfully combined the concepts of stewardship and profitability to build Lee Farms into one of the premier cotton farming operations in the Southeast.

In recognition of this accomplishment, he has been named the 2010 Farm Press/Cotton Foundation High Cotton Award winner for the Southeast region.

Lee Farms, at Bronwood in southwest Georgia, grows 3,500 to 4,200 acres of cotton, 900 acres of corn, soybeans, and wheat, and has a cow-calf operation. It also includes McCleskey Cotton Company, a ginning and warehousing operation, and RCL Flying Service, an agricultural aerial spraying business. In addition, the operation does custom harvesting.

Lee is quick to point out that it’s truly a family operation — son Ron operates the gin and markets the crop, son Neil runs the day-to-day farming operation, and son Chandler also works in the farming enterprise.

Ronnie has been growing cotton since about 1992, and started the ginning operation in 1995.

By staying ahead of the game with technology and innovation, Lee Farms has managed to prosper over the years, consistently producing high-yielding and high quality crops.

“We were the first in Terrell County to adopt strip-till and no-till planting practices, eventually helping educate and inform neighboring growers about the benefits of those practices,” he says. “Now, though, we’ve had to modify our system somewhat because of glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth pigweed.”

He believes strongly that farmers need to set the example when it comes to environmental stewardship. The adoption of conservation-tillage practices on his own farm has had a ripple effect, with other growers in the area soon taking notice and trying it successfully in their fields. He also uses an intensive cover crop program in the winter months to conserve soil and help with moisture retention, participates in the EQUIP program, and is a strong proponent of the NRCS — in fact, a portion of Lee Farms is dedicated to the Conservation Reserve Program.

The Lees have also been quick to embrace new technology, acting as a proving ground to help encourage adoption by fellow producers.