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

When we began this effort in 1995, there were concerns that it would be perceived as "just another award." Some questioned whether the Beltwide Cotton Production Conference program was becoming overly saturated with such events.

In the years since, we think the High Cotton awards have proven themselves, not because of anything we at Farm Press have done. The winners' accomplishments have made it possible for the cotton industry to point to them as examples of the best in environmental stewardship.

The High Cotton Awards Breakfast, held annually at the Beltwide Conferences, has produced some memorable moments for those who have been privileged to honor these outstanding farmers.

At last year's breakfast, Southeast winner Tom Ingram commented on the fact that 55 years earlier on that date 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.

Three years ago, Delta winner Harry Flowers talked about how his mother had instilled a love of the land in him and other family members. "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 said.

At the first High Cotton awards ceremony in 1995, Mrs. Hugh Summerville came up after the breakfast and apologized for her husband's appearance in the photograph that accompanied his article in the Farm Presses.

"That photograph was taken after Hugh had been working at the gin almost around the clock for days," she said, reminding us that our winners are real farmers who face challenges that would defeat many less strong-willed individuals.

Again last year, Southwest winner John Barrett had his son, David, hold up a map of his farm. Barrett used the map to explain the runoff study he had volunteered to conduct on his farm and six of his neighbors' for EPA.

"We let the EPA folks analyze everything we did," he said. "All rain and runoff was measured and analyzed. Over a four-year period, of 218,000 pounds of nitrogen that went on the land, there were only 110 pounds in the runoff. For pesticides there was less than 0.0001 pound of active ingredient over a year. "If farmers don't participate in promoting agriculture and it's accomplishments, others will set the agenda."

Many farmers expect that President-elect George W. Bush's nominee to head EPA, New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, will reverse the activist policies of the Clinton administration. Maybe so, but these appointments can take funny directions.

Lest we forget, EPA's first administrator, William D. Ruckelshaus, who many consider to have been similarly overly aggressive, was appointed by President Richard Nixon. And, there is little indication that environmental groups, stung by Vice President Al Gore's election loss, will ease up their activities anytime soon.

We suspect that agriculture will continue to have need of good environmental success stories, and we hope to be showcasing them through the High Cotton awards for years to come.