Times are tough in the cotton industry, but cotton producers have overcome challenges in the past and can do so again if they will stick together, the winner of the 2009 High Cotton Award for the Southwest says.

Jimmy Dodson, a producer who farms near Corpus Christi, Texas, recalled his first experience with growing cotton when he began farming with his father, Giles, in 1974. The partners only planted 80 acres of cotton on the 1,500 they farmed that year.

“Economically, it didn’t make a lot of sense to plant cotton that year,” said Dodson, who accepted the High Cotton award for the Southwest at a breakfast at the National Cotton Council’s Beltwide Cotton Conferences in San Antonio. “If you look back at the charts, you’ll see it was not a stellar year.

“But my Dad said we needed to stay hooked up with cotton because it was our future, and, really, today is not much different than that. We need to stay hooked up as an industry with the people we have in this room, at this conference and in my neighborhood back home. I feel cotton has a great future, not only in this country, but in the world.”

Dodson said he owed a debt of gratitude to many people for the High Cotton award, which is presented annually to farmers in each region of the Cotton Belt who represent the best of the best in protecting the environment in their communities.

“I’ve come to learn that farming is a team sport. I stand on a lot of people’s shoulders up here today,” he noted. “You mentioned my Dad, but the rest of my family, a lot of good friends and a lot of people in this room have a lot to do with me being up here today.”

This is the 15th year the Farm Press Publications have presented the High Cotton awards through a grant to The Cotton Foundation, according to Greg Frey, publisher of Southeast Farm Press, Delta Farm Press, Southwest Farm Press and Western Farm Press, which are part of the Penton Media family of publications.

The High Cotton Awards were conceived with the idea of recognizing what growers are doing to achieve the goals of consistently high yields and premiere quality cotton while instituting practices that protect natural resources that enhance the environment.

“Each class continues to impress with their innovative techniques to achieve high yields and quality of product while protecting the environment,” Frey said in remarks delivered at the High Cotton breakfast at the Beltwide.

“We are very proud of this year’s winning class and the conservation ideals they represent. Each of them is taking care of their land and the environment and leaving it better than they found it. We have always known farmers are the true stewards of the soil, air and water. This year’s High Cotton winners exemplify the best of the best.”

Larry McClendon, the National Cotton Council’s chairman and a farmer and ginner from Arkansas, said he noticed a common theme among this year’s winners: They all have the challenge of farming in close proximity to an urban area.

“They say good fences make good neighbors, but these farmers recognized that isn’t an option,” he said. “They haven’t isolated themselves. Instead, they have gone the extra mile to be good neighbors.”

McClendon said he’s not familiar with the bottom lines of this year’s winners, but he suspects their environmental practices have enhanced their operations viability. “I just don’t think you can consistently exploit your natural resources and maintain a profitable farm,” he said.

This year’s winners — who also included Mike Tate from the Southeast, Jason Luckey from the Mid-South and Danny Locke from the Far West — expressed their thanks to spouses and other family members, other friends in the cotton industry and their Maker.

“Anytime you go out in our fields and see a good crop, you know the good Lord blessed you with the rain,” said Dodson, who farms in an area that has little irrigation capability and has seen more than its share of dry weather in recent years. “We are dependent in our line of work on the good Lord and his blessings.”

Mike Tate, who farms 5,000 acres near Huntsville in north Alabama with his father, Homer, brothers, Steve and Jeff, and cousin, Pat Brown, thanked the other family members and organizations such as the Southern-Southeastern Cotton Growers Association for the help they’ve provided over the years.

Noting that one of his brothers keeps up with the Farm Service Agency and National Resource Conservation Service rules and another with marketing, Tate said, “What they do allows me to do what I enjoy — raising cotton,” he said.

Jason Luckey, who farms with his brother, Ken, and nephew, Zac, near Humboldt, Tenn., thanked his father, Rege, and his brother and his wife, Amy, for their efforts to help make their farming operation more environmentally sustainable.

“It is quite humbling to be recognized for something you love to do,” he said in accepting the coveted Cotton Boll High Cotton Award at the conference.

Identified as a “man of few words,” Danny Locke of Firebaugh, Calif., simply identified each of the nine family members who attended the awards ceremony.

e-mail: flaws@farmpress.com