ATLANTA, GA – The winners of the 2011 High Cotton Awards are: Ronnie Lee, Bronwood, Ga., Southeast Region; Ray Makamson, Itta Bena, Miss., Mid-South Region; Eric Seidenberger, Garden City, Texas, Southwest Region; and Bruce Heiden, Buckeye, Ariz., Far West Region. The four were honored at the 2011 Beltwide Cotton Conferences, held January 4-7 at the Marriott Marquis here.
The High Cotton Awards are made possible through a grant from Farm Press to The Cotton Foundation. Since 1995, the awards have honored growers who were growing profitable, quality cotton and showcased the good things they were doing in the areas of conservation and environmental stewardship. Since that time the environmental stewardship efforts of 71 cotton producers have been chronicled.
Like previous recipients, the 2011 winners have found that environmental stewardship and a willingness to try new technology go hand in hand. Between them, the 2011 winners have been farming for 130 years but rarely shy away from trying new technologies that will help them grow cotton profitably and in an environmentally friendly manner.
“These are some of the most environmentally conscientious producers we’ve featured in our 16 years of presenting the bronze Cotton Boll awards,” said Greg Frey, vice president for the Penton Media Inc. Agricultural Group, which publishes the Farm Presses. “Some of them have been farming for a while, but they always put the environment and taking care of their land and water first.”
Southeast winner Ronnie Lee has successfully combined the concepts of stewardship and profitability to build Lee Farms into one of the premier cotton farming operations in the Southeast. While Lee oversees the farming of about 6,200 acres and multiple business enterprises, he also takes time to work on perfecting the use of such conservation practices and strip-till and no-till farming and modifying them when unexpected hurdles arise.
“We were one of the first in Terrell County to adopt strip-till and no-till planting practices, eventually helping educate and inform neighboring growers about the benefits of those practices,” says Lee. “Now, however, we’ve had to modify our system somewhat due to glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth pigweed.”
Delta Region winner Ray Makamson, a veteran of 38 years of farming, produces 3,050 acres of cotton and 700 acres of soybean on his farming operation near Itta Bena, which is located in the middle of the Mississippi Delta.
Observers say Makamson’s attention to detail in conservation practices is evident in the appearance of his farming operation. “The one thing that strikes you is Ray’s meticulous nature,” Trey Cooke, executive director of Delta Wildlife, told Delta Farm Press’ Elton Robinson.
“He is probably the most esthetically-astute farmer that I’m aware of in the Delta. His shop is clean. The grass is clipped, there are no piles of containers or irrigation pipe lying around. If you were to ever want to take somebody to a farming operation to see one of the best actors in the farming community, Ray’s farm would be one you want them to see.”
Southwest winner Eric Seidenberger has also been working to handle water more efficiently on his 2,950 acres, 2,150 of them in cotton and the rest in wheat and grazing land by installing drip irrigation on much of his acreage. Drip irrigation, reduced tillage, terracing and grassed waterways all are critical parts of his production and conservation programs, which are aimed at achieving the highest yields at the lowest costs while protecting the land and water.
Seidenberger installed his first drip irrigation in 2003, a 45-acre block. He says drip offers at least three advantages: consistent high yields; improved water efficiency; and cost savings through reduced tillage.
Although he has more years of experience, W. Bruce Heiden, who finished his 58th crop in 2010, is still one of the most progressive and forward thinking cotton producers in the Far West. Heiden has faced numerous challenges, ranging from multiple insect pests that threatened not only to reduce yield but to take markets from Arizona cotton to urban encroachment that has only slowed down with the recession in the national economy.
Peter Ellsworth, University of Arizona IPM specialist and one of several who nominated Heiden for the High Cotton award, said Heiden not only has managed to survive the challenges, but excelled during those periods.
“Even in the years when we struggled to control pink bollworm or later to control whitefly, Bruce’s production was always among the highest,” Ellsworth said. He noted that Heiden was a leader in helping the industry move through technology changes, including Bt cotton. He was instrumental in getting new insect growth regulators registered to turn back the whitefly, a pest Heiden said was the most devastating insect to befall Arizona cotton producers.
High Cotton award winners receive an expenses-paid trip to the National Cotton Council-coordinated Beltwide Cotton Conferences. Co-sponsors of this year’s awards are Ace Pump Company, All-Tex Seed, Americot/NexGen, Arysta LifeScience, Deltapine, Helena Chemical Company, John Deere, Rio Tinto Minerals – U.S. Borax and Syngenta.