Eric Seidenberger made his first cotton crop back in 1994 and when he went to see his banker to settle up after harvest, the loan officer looked at Eric’s cotton check and asked: “Is this all there is?”

Eric assured him that it was, indeed, the total income from his cotton crop.

The banker took another look at the check and another look at Eric and asked: “Have you thought about trying something else?”

He had not — and 16 years later, after harvesting more than 2,000 acres of Glasscock County, Texas, cotton, he says he’s never regretted not following the banker’s advice.

His perseverance in the face of discouragement and a few less than stellar crop years, has put Seidenberger among an elite list of Southwest cotton farmers — winner of the Farm Press/Cotton Foundation High Cotton Award for the Southwest region.

Seidenberger started small, leasing land where he could, and for the first few crops using some of his father’s tractors and equipment.

“Dad (Dennis) still farms his own land, as he has for 43 years,” Eric says. “Our operations are totally separate, but we talk a lot about our crops. If not for his help and advice, and the use of his equipment during the tough early years, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Without help from family, many young farmers today have little chance of getting started, he says. “And it’s twice as expensive now as it was when I started.”

Seidenberger is farming 2,950 acres — 2,150 in cotton, the rest in wheat, and also grazes Angus cattle on 3,000 acres of pasture. He irrigates 1,225 acres, 1,000 with subsurface drip, has a 125-acre pivot, and furrow waters 100 acres. He plans to put in another 100 acres of drip for the 2011 season.

Drip irrigation, reduced tillage, terracing and grassed waterways are critical parts of his production and conservation programs.