The 2001 High Cotton awards breakfast was very much a family affair. Some of the winners had three generations of family members with them. Southeast winner Tom Waller of North Carolina and his wife, Anne, left for Greensboro, N.C., after the breakfast to watch their daughter compete in the Junior Miss Pageant.

But, there was also a sense that other generations might be watching as the winners accepted their distinctive, bronze Cotton Boll awards during the breakfast held at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences in Anaheim, Calif.

The High Cotton awards are sponsored by Farm Press Division of Intertec through a grant to The Cotton Foundation. Co-sponsors are Delta and Pine Land Co.; Deere and Co.; Griffin L.L.C.; Helena Chemical Co.; Southern States Cooperative, Inc.; and Syngenta.

"I would like to accept this award on behalf of my whole family," said Mid-South winner David Wildy of Manila, Ark., who thanked his wife, Patty, for her understanding and son, Justin, for his willingness to return to the farm and work in partnership with his father.

Wildy related how his great-grandfather brought his new bride to the northern part of Mississippi County in Arkansas in 1914 to start farming. Years later, he rented land to his son, David Wildy's grandfather, so that he could begin farming.

"My great-grandfather told my grandfather to pay him the interest on the money, but that the rest of the rent had to go back into the land," he said.

In 1928, David's grandfather was named one of the first Arkansas Master Farmers because of his conservation practices and dedication to improving his land. In 1957, Earl Wildy, David's father, became the second generation Arkansas Master Farmer in the family.

Danny Davis and his father, Doc Davis, were the 2001 Southwest High Cotton winners. Danny says he got "hooked on farming" as a child while riding on a tractor with his grandfather near their home in Elk City, Okla.

"I remember looking back behind the tractor and seeing the sun just coming up good and watching the plows turning the soil," he said in accepting his award. "You boys who have done this know what I'm talking about. Of course, I shouldn't say plow because we don't do that anymore."

Doc and Danny, who have been farming together for the best part of three decades, began experimenting with reduced tillage systems in 1979. But, the conservation ethic started long before then for the Davis family.

"My dad was a good steward of the soil," said Doc. "He built shelter belts (wind breaks) and terraces, but he did not want to see a weed in his fields. He was an advocate of conservation before most folks."

The tradition continued with Doc.

"I love to take a piece of land that I've watched for 20 years and see what I can do with it," he says. "Sometimes it takes five years or more to bring it back."

Danny thanked several members of the audience, including National Cotton Council Chairman Ron Rayner, for the work they had done to help the individual operator on the farm.

"I remember one of the chemical company guys coming to my farm to look at our no-till," he said. "He told me later, he initially thought he might sell some more Roundup. But, then he realized he might actually help some people. That's the kind of people we have to be, willing to help our industry."

Richard "Dick" Newton, the Far West winner, talked about his family moving from Oceanside near Los Angeles to some "good, fertile land in the San Joaquin Valley. I guess if my family had stayed in Oceanside, I might be farming houses now," he told the 200 persons attending the breakfast.

Newton thanked his wife, Carolyn, for "standing by me all these years." He also thanked the Extension Service, citing Bruce Roberts, Kings County Extension director and cotton farm advisor; the field men for the various chemical companies; and his crop consultants for their help.

Southeast winner Waller said he was not comfortable standing before a group and speaking, "but I am comfortable with what we do in our no-till operation."

He said he doesn't try to convert all of his neighbors to no-till because it's not a good fit for everyone. "I wouldn't want to steer anyone in the wrong direction when it's not the best system for them."

The Trenton, N.C., producer said he wanted to "thank the Good Lord for entrusting us with the water and resources we need to farm. With only 1 to 1.5 percent of the population farming, others are entrusting their food and fiber supply to us. I think it is an honor to be a farmer, but it would be good to be better compensated for it."