The High Cotton Awards program, which seeks to honor some of the nation’s best environmentalists – its cotton farmers – was different in a number of ways this year:
- It was the first High Cotton awards ceremony to be held in conjunction with the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show in Memphis, Tenn., after 21 years with the National Cotton council’s Beltwide Cotton Conferences.
- It was the first ceremony in which all of the winners did not attend. Southwest winner Bill Lovelady, a cotton producer from Tornillo, Texas, was unable to travel to Memphis due to health reasons.
- And it was the first ceremony in which an unmanned aerial vehicle was used to capture a portion of the High Cotton video which is produced annually to be shown at the High Cotton awards ceremony.
Despite all those firsts, it was still primarily an event dedicated to showcasing the environmental stewardship of the nation's cotton producers. And, as is usually the case, it brought out a wide range of emotions from the recipients of the unique, bronze Cotton Boll trophies the winners receive.
Even though the awards, which are sponsored by Farm Press through a grant to The Cotton Foundation, highlight the conservation practices used by the winners in their farming operations they are also very much a people program.
That was the sentiment expressed by Larry McClendon, this year’s winner from the Delta region who has served the industry as chairman of the National Cotton Council, president of Southern Cotton Ginners Association and as a good friend to hundreds of growers.
Think more about the people
“It’s easy after 41 seasons to reflect back on the big crops, the droughts, the floods and the dollar-a-pound cotton, but really the two things stand out in my mind,” said McClendon, “are, one, the relationships I’ve been able to foster with people throughout the industry over this time. I think about the people way more than I do the crop these days.”
The second thing, he said, “is the legacy we want to leave behind on our farms. In my tenure on my farm, we’ve basically gone from dryland farming back in the 1970s and early 80s to irrigated, intensive management today. But we’ve also changed our tillage; we have cover crops now; we’ve put in tailwater recovery systems, and I’m happy to say I’ll turn my farmer over in a whole lot better hands than when I took it over 40 years ago.”
George “Teel” Warbington, the High Cotton winner from the Southeast, injected some humor into the ceremony. “I think they probably had a short list in the Southeast,” said Warbington, who added he’s also the shortest member of his family.
While Warbington may have a different perspective, that doesn’t mean his vision of cotton is skewed. He’s a strong but realistic supporter of cotton, judging from his comments after receiving the award.
“It’s a challenging time in cotton production,” he said. “We have a unique situation in Dooley County (Georgia) in that really we have no other alternative. Soybeans just aren’t really a good option for us in our humid environment. Cotton is our crop. It is adapted for our area. We force a little corn in there for rotation when we can.”
He and other Dooley County growers plant peanuts. “But peanuts are not as forgiving as cotton can be in some of the climactic issues we face from time to time,” he noted. “We’re in cotton for the long haul. We’ve always grown it back to my grandfather in the 1920s. We do know it will be profitable again – we don’t know when it will be profitable enough to be excited about it.”
Member of the Cotton Board
Warbington serves on the Cotton Board and supports its mission as the self-funded research and promotion arm of the cotton industry. “I believe that had it not been for the Cotton Board and the work it’s doing on our behalf we would not be sitting in this room talking about this today.”
In a video message prepared by his daughter, Southwest winner Bill Lovelady expressed disappointment that he could not attend the ceremony.
“Even though I can’t be with you today, I just want you all to know how much I appreciate the Farm Press for putting this award together,” he said. “And I want to thank those who nominated me and thank all of you my good friends in the Cotton Belt and other parts of agriculture.
“It’s a deep honor, but I am greatly humbled because there are thousands of farmers across this country that deserve this as much as I do, and thank you so much.”
Western High Cotton winner Dennis Palmer noted the absence of Lovelady, who he had worked with on the Pink Bollworm Action Committee for many years. “Bill is a good friend and a great man,” said Palmer, who lives and farms in Thatcher, Ariz.
Palmer was accompanied by his wife, Margaret; son, Matt Palmer and his wife, Kim, and daughter, Marianne, and her husband, Jeff Tysoe, to the awards ceremony at the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show in Memphis.
Blessed to be here
“I’m so grateful to be here,” said Palmer. “I feel lucky, I feel blessed. I’m so grateful my family is here to share this with me. They came all the way here with us.”
He said his mother-in-law would send out a newsletter almost every week about family members. “We would love to get that newsletter, this family newsletter because it had all these things about different family members and what they were doing,” he said. “I compare the Farm Press as the family newsletter of agriculture. It really is fun to get. We anticipate that, reading stories and articles, seeing the editors and what their stories are in this issue. So I thank them.”
Palmer says he feels like he’s the quarterback of his team. “It’s a we team,” he noted. It’s a family. I didn’t do all this great stuff without a lot of help from employees to my father, whose initials were VIP so we stuck with the name for our farm.
“And as the quarterback I hand the football off to the full back, and he’s tough and he’s smart and he’s here, and that’s my son, Matt.”