Four farmers who have not let economic adversity stand in the way of their love and concern for the land have been named recipients of the 2003 High Cotton awards.

Sponsored by The Cotton Foundation through a grant from Farm Press Publications, the awards seek to recognize farmers who have made invaluable contributions to protecting the environment in each of the four regions of the Cotton Belt.

This year's winners are:

L.C. Conway, Cove City, N.C., Southeast Region;

Marty White, Jonesboro, Ark., Delta Region;

Dale Swinburn, Tulia, Texas; Southwest Region;

Paul “Paco” Ollerton, Coolidge, Ariz., Western Region.

Each meets the criteria that have dictated the selection of the High Cotton awards since the program's beginning in 1995; that is, they are full-time growers who produce a profitable, high quality crop while meeting the best standards of environmental stewardship.

They will be honored at a breakfast during the National Cotton Council's Beltwide Cotton Conferences at Nashville's Gaylord Opryland Hotel, Jan. 9.

Co-sponsors of the 2003 High Cotton awards are Deere and Co., Delta and Pine Land Co., Griffin L.L.C., Helena Chemical Co. and Syngenta Crop Protection. Each will be represented at the breakfast.

“These are difficult times in agriculture,” says Mike Gonitzke, publisher for Farm Press Division of Primedia Business Magazines and Media. “But these High Cotton winners continue to do what's necessary to take care of their land and the environment.”

L.C. Conway, this year's Southeast winner, believes that growing cotton with conservation-tillage is helping beat the odds weather, higher costs and low cotton prices have stacked against him.

The few acres Conway still farms with conventional-tillage serve as a reminder of the benefits of planting no-till in a year like 2002. “The cotton on the bedded land wilted worse than the no-till,” he says. “I could tell the difference.”

Although it's costing him more money, Delta winner Marty White is buying biodiesel, a product made from soybean oil, to help keep the air cleaner around his northeast Arkansas farm.

“Biodiesel costs 5.5 cents more per gallon,” White notes. “But they say that it cuts toxic emissions by 80 or 90 percent, gives you more horsepower and protects your engine a little better. I've noticed around the shop with all these pickers running on biodiesel, we don't have the diesel smell.

Southwest winner Dale Swinburn acknowledges that growing cotton under the challenging conditions of the Texas High Plains demands that growers balance attempts to produce high yields against production efficiency and conservation.

Since the early 1990s, Swinburn has concentrated on conservation to save soil and water and to improve efficiency. “A benchmark for our conservation efforts was a field day in Turpin, Okla., sponsored by Kansas State and Oklahoma State Universities,” he says. “The program concentrated on methods to conserve water in dryland sorghum and wheat.”

Western winner Paul Ollerton is a strong believer in integrated pest management, or IPM, for controlling harmful insects and protecting the environment.

“I hate to start spraying for insects, but you have to if you farm in Arizona,” he says. “When you start, it often begins a cycle of destroying beneficials. That's the part I don't like,” he said, adding, “I like using pheromones for pinkies. The insect growth regulators we used to bring whitefly under control have been wonderful.”

Ollerton, who farms in an area between Phoenix and Tucson, headed up a pest control district several years ago where growers banded together to control pink bollworm and whitefly. “We believe we have another very impressive group of winners,” said Farm Press' Gonitzke, who will give the opening remarks at the breakfast honoring the High Cotton award recipients in Nashville.

“These farmers, like thousands of other growers in the areas we serve, are the real environmentalists,” he said. “They strive to take care of their land while insuring that their families can continue to enjoy their way of life.”

This year's winners were nominated for the High Cotton awards by their neighbors, local Extension agents and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service specialists. They were selected for the awards by the editors of the Delta Farm Press, Southeast Farm Press, Southwest Farm Press and Western Farm Press.

Besides the recognition at the High Cotton breakfast and in the issues of these Farm Press Publications, they also receive an expense paid trip to the Beltwide Cotton Conferences, Jan. 6-10.

For more information on the High Cotton awards, contact Sandy Perry at 662-624-8503 or by e-mail at sperry@primediabusiness.com. For more information on the Beltwide Cotton Conferences, contact Debbie Richter at 901-274-9030 or by e-mail at drichter@cotton.org.