This year marks the eighth anniversary of The Cotton Foundation/Farm Press High Cotton awards.

When we began this program in 1995, there were concerns that at some point we might run out of farmers who were good stewards of their land and environment and thus deserving of the High Cotton award.

We needn't have worried. Each year's nominations have brought forward a host of producers whose accomplishments have made it possible for the U.S. cotton industry to point to them as examples of the best in environmental stewardship.

The High Cotton awards breakfast, held annually at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences, has produced some memorable moments for those who have gathered at the early hour of 6:30 a.m. to honor these outstanding farmers.

One of the most heart-grabbing was the acceptance speech by Tom Ingram, the 2000 High Cotton winner from the Southeast. “Mr. Tom” noted that 55 years ago to the day he was sitting in a foxhole in the Ardennes Forest in Belgium, waiting for his platoon to begin an attack during the Battle of the Bulge.

Shortly after that, he was selected for Officer Candidate School and pulled out of the front line. “That probably saved my life,” he said. “That's how bad it was.”

Last year's breakfast was very much a family affair with some of the winners having three generations on hand to see their father or grandfather or son receive the bronze Cotton Boll award.

David Wildy, the 2001 High Cotton winner for the Mid-South, said he was accepting on behalf of his “whole family.” Wildy wasn't speaking of just those family members in attendance. Wildy remembered that his great-grandfather had moved to Mississippi County, Ark., in 1914 to begin farming with his new wife. Years later, the great-grandfather rented land to his son so that he could begin farming.

“My great-grandfather told my grandfather to pay him the interest, but the rest of the rent had to go back into improving the land,” Wildy said.

In 1998, Mid-South winner Harry Flowers of Mattson, Miss., talked about how his mother had instilled a love of the land in him and his family. “We live on this land; we hunt and fish on it; and I promise you we would never do anything that would harm it or our neighbors,” he noted.

Again at last year's breakfast, Southwest winners Doc and Danny Davis, father and son who have been farming together for nearly three decades, said the conservation ethic goes back even farther in their family. “My dad was a good steward of the soil,” said Doc. “He built shelter belts (wind breaks) and terraces. He was an advocate of conservation before most folks were talking about it.”

Stories like these make the High Cotton awards program one of the most interesting aspects of working at Delta Farm Press. Meeting these producers and hearing their stories are often the highlight of our year.

By the way, we would like to again thank our co-sponsors, John Deere Co., Delta and Pine Land Co., Griffin L.L.C., Helena Chemical Co., Syngenta and The Seam, without whom this program would not be possible.