What is in this article?:
- High Cotton Awards Program enters its 20th year
- Meet this year's winners
- High Cotton Award winners are Danny Darnell, Hillsboro, Ala., Southeast; Kenneth Hood, Gunnison, Miss., Delta; Steven Beakley, Ennis,Texas, Southwest; and Clyde Sharp, Roll, Ariz., Far West.
- The High Cotton Awards continue to identify producers who are the best of the best when it comes to producing a high quality, profitable crop in an environmentally responsible manner.
Meet this year's winners
Danny Darnell didn’t begin his career in farming, but he soon realized there was no other place where he would rather be. After finishing high school, he got a job at a local plant, but it soon became apparent to him and to his wife, Pat, that farming was his true calling.
Darnell literally started with nothing, baling hay for the public and working his own farm whenever there was time — whatever it took to make a living. “Basically, we’re still doing that now, but it’s just a little better living,” he says.
Darnell’s love for the land was passed on to his sons Jared and Heath, both of whom were eager to return to the farm after finishing their educations at Auburn University.
Today, the Darnells farm about 5,500 acres altogether, split between cotton, corn and soybeans followed by wheat.
Kenneth Hood has been farming — and innovating — most of his life. Hood, who farms in partnership with three brothers, Howard, Curtis and Cary, in the Mississippi Delta., grew his first crop when he was a junior at Mississippi State University.
Neighbor and fellow farmer Maury Knowlton offered to rent 620 aces to Hood for $15 an acre or 20 percent of the crop, whichever was larger. But Hood’s father wasn’t about to let his son quit college.
So Hood hired one of Knowlton’s farm managers, Pete Sanders, to run the farm while he was away. Hood changed his major from engineering to agricultural business and for the next two years, came home on weekends to farm.
Later in his farming career, Hood was at the forefront of a huge leap in technology that connected the dots between the Global Positioning System, Geographical Information Systems and Hood’s curiosity about the allocation of cost in agricultural production.
Steven Beakley knows first-hand how important water and conservation are to farmers in the Southwest. Having little control over the former, Beakley has devoted much of his effort to getting the most use out of the water resources he has in his farming operation near Ennis, Texas.
Drought this year rivaled conditions of the last two seasons. “We had enough rainfall to make a crop, just not enough to finish it. Grades may be off a little.”
He attributes much of the farm’s success with cotton variety selection, rotation, ample fertility, plant management and timeliness. And a timely rain or two never hurts. This year he’ll add harvesting with a round baler to that list.
“We never follow cotton with cotton,” he says. “We may have planted cotton back-to-back once about three years ago when the price went to $1 and more per pound. But we stick with a cotton, sunflower and wheat rotation.
“We like to plant cotton back on sunflower ground. Some folks say it’s not a good idea to plant two taproot crops back-to-back but it has not been an issue when we get some rain. We harvest wheat and fallow it all summer.”
Clyde Sharp has also learned how to deal with a decided lack of moisture in the 50 seasons he has farmed near the community of Roll in Arizona. The Sharps farm in the arid Arizona low desert at about 250 feet above sea level about 20 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border.
In this desert region, annual rainfall totals a mere 2.5 inches. A combination of surface water irrigation and the desert heat combine to create excellent conditions to grow quality cotton with good yields.
Despite a short growing season due to the competition for winter produce ground this past season, Sharp grew four-bale cotton per acre. The green paint round-bale pickers plucked 3.66 bales and rood machines collected another one-third bale per acre from the bottom of the plants and lint on the ground.
Sharp credits lower humidity during the summer monsoon season, cooler summer nighttime temperatures, the NexGen variety, and farming skill for the bale-buster crop.
In addition to service to the agricultural industry, Sharp and his brother, David, embrace environmental stewardship practices on the farm. The Sharps were the first growers in the Wellton-Mohawk Valley to plant Bt cotton to reduce insecticide and herbicide needs.
The Sharps viewed Bt as the potential future of cotton. They were right.
They use 100 percent GPS guidance systems in farm equipment which reduces fuel use and dust. The specialty equipment reduces the number of passes up and down the fields. Also, the switch from laser-based land leveling to GPS leveling improves efficiency.