Chad Crivelli grew his first cotton crop in 1995 as an FFA project. He was the first-ever national fiber crop award winner from California — and he’s been growing cotton ever since.

The opening paragraph of his nomination for this year’s Farm Press/Cotton Foundations High Cotton Award for the Western states tells the story of the third-generation Merced County, Calif., producer.

(For more, see: Photos: High Cotton Award winners 2013)

Matt Whittaker, Helena Chemical Company pest control adviser (PCA) at Merced, Calif., who nominated his former college classmate and good friend, knows Crivelli well. For the past dozen years he has been Crivelli’s PCA.

Chad, who farms 1,800 acres with his father, Bill, was nominated as much for what he does outside the turnrows as what he does inside.

Since 1999, the Crivellis have been part of the San Joaquin Valley Sustainable Cotton Project, which not only works with growers to develop new, reduced cost and low environmental impact cotton-growing techniques, but also to extol the virtues of sustainable farming practices to those who buy SJV cotton.

“Chad has been an advocate and a public face of the cotton-growing community to hundreds of consumers, educators and fashion industry representatives who have toured valley cotton fields in the past decade,” says Marcia Gibbs, director of the sustainable cotton project.

Chad, she says, is part of a “new generation of farmers who are implementing practices that promote good stewardship, protecting the water, air and soil of the region. He is a pioneer in sustainable farming practices and a true champion of our Cleaner Cotton program.”

Pete Goodell, University of California IPM advisor, says, “Chad meets with people during field trips to share the story about sustainable cotton. He is a great spokesperson for urban folks who don’t understand what’s going on in cotton industry. He represents the cotton industry incredibly well, and the High Cotton Award is a well-deserved honor for Chad.”

Big accolades for a quiet, 33-year-old, who wanted only to be a farmer and follow the path laid out by his father and his grandfather. His grandfather, Henry, moved to the Dos Palos area from Eureka in the 1950s to dairy, and Chad’s father grew the family’s first cotton crop in 1975.

At his parents’ insistence, Chad went to Merced Community College, but farmed at the same time. When time came to transfer to California State University, Fresno, he wanted to stay home and farm full time.

His father laughs, recalling when he and Chad’s mother, Rhonda, drove him to Fresno to make sure he enrolled.

“We watched to make sure he went in the doors,” chuckles Bill.

Chad is glad his parents nudged him. He graduated in 2001 with a degree in plant sciences with an emphasis on agronomy.

“Chad is a very progressive farmer,” says Whittaker. “He stays up-to-date on new technologies, and practices solid IPM strategies and sound fertility programs. He is very innovative and fast to act on opportunities.”