Environmental Stewardship a High Priority

Six farmers who make stewardship of the land an integral part of their farming operations have been named recipients of The Cotton Foundation/Farm Press High Cotton awards for 2002.

January 9, 2002
Contact: Marjory Walker
(901) 274-9030

ATLANTA - Six farmers who make stewardship of the land an integral part of their farming operations have been named recipients of The Cotton Foundation/Farm Press High Cotton awards for 2002.

The winners are survivors of some of the most difficult economic and environmental conditions American agriculture has seen in a long time. But they continue to keep conservation practices at the top of their priority list.

The recipients of this year’s awards, which are sponsored by Farm Press Publications through a grant to The Cotton Foundation, will be honored at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences in Atlanta. John Deere Co., Delta and Pine Land Co., Griffin L.L.C., Helena Chemical Co., The Seam and Syngenta are award co-sponsors.

"The land is our livelihood, so we take care of it," says Jackie Burris, a Wellman, TX, producer who accepted the High Cotton award for the Southwest along with his brothers, Terry and Ricky.

The Burrises farm 3,000 acres of irrigated cotton and 2,000 dryland acres of cotton and milo on the Texas High Plains. It is not the most hospitable environment for row-crop agriculture, they say.

"Our sandy soil is highly erodible," Jackie says. "We use minimum tillage on almost all our irrigated acreage and do everything we can to keep the land from blowing. Once we let a field start blowing it’s hard to control it until we deep plow it again."

George Franklin, Jr., the Mid-South winner, is a veteran conservationist whose innovations have been adopted by many of his neighbors.

"I started getting into conservationism in the 1940s," says Franklin, whose family has farmed in the Holly Ridge, LA, area since the early 1900s. "I’ve always been a big hunter and wanted to be able to do that while helping fix my land."

Franklin, who farms with his three sons, plants wheat and ryegrass for deer, floods huge amounts of land for ducks and plants filter strips with fervor. Black bear are seen around his thousands of acres regularly.

Daniel Burns, manager of San Juan Ranching Co. in California and the Far West High Cotton award winner, is tying conservation practices to his efforts to control costs and restore profitability to his farming operation.

"Daniel shows his environmental sensitivity by rotating cotton with tomatoes and using residual nitrogen from the tomatoes for cotton," says Bill Weir, University of California farm advisor in Merced County. "This not only reduces costs, but increases yields and prevents groundwater contamination."

John S. Williams Jr., a producer in Dooly County, GA, this year’s Southeast High Cotton winner, has been planting winter cover crops on all of his cotton acreage for nearly three decades.

"We’ve been growing cotton here since 1973, and we’ve always planted a cover crop of rye on cotton land," says Williams. "Rye has a good root system, and it’s been proven to be more beneficial to our soils than other cover crops. If we as farmers don’t protect the land, then we won’t have anything left to work."

"We believe that we have another very impressive group of winners," said Mike Gonitzke, publisher at Farm Press, which began the High Cotton awards program seven years ago.

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

This year’s winners, who will be honored at a breakfast at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences in Atlanta, Jan. 11, were nominated for the High Cotton awards by their neighbors, Extension agents and USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service specialists. The editors of Delta Farm Press, Southeast Farm Press, Southwest Farm Press and Western Farm Press selected the winners.

In addition to being recognized as being some of this country’s best conservation farmers, they received an expense paid trip to the 2002 Beltwide Cotton Conferences.