To say it has been a challenging and turbulent career as W. Bruce Heiden gins the 2010 seed cotton from his 58th harvest is an understatement.

The Buckeye, Ariz., producer who is this year’s Far West Farm Press/Cotton Foundation High Cotton Award winner, is closing in on his sixth decade of growing cotton in an environment unlike that of any other U.S. Cotton Belt state.

Arizona’s year-round subtropical arid climate makes it seemingly an ideal place to grow cotton — it rains less than 10 inches per year, but with irrigation water, the crop thrives in the dry climate.

But no other Cotton Belt state has had to deal with the consortium of pests that have plagued Arizona: boll weevil, pink bollworm, whitefly and assorted other plant bugs, nematodes and lepidopterous pests — often one or more in the same year.

The weather is so mild, it is the only state where cotton, a perennial plant, can be grown as a recurrent crop — called ‘stub’ or ratooned cotton. In the past, Arizona growers have left stalks of one year’s harvested crop in the fields over winter, mowed the stalks in the spring, irrigated, and produced a new cotton crop on last year’s roots.

Stub cotton is also a cotton boll weevil’s dream: an early breakfast and a late supper. The last time Arizona producers grew stub cotton, the boll weevil took up permanent residence in the state. Growers were getting 4-bale cotton yields from stub crops in the 1970s, but were paying dearly in insecticide bills. Eventually, Arizona initiated a boll weevil eradication program, and stub cotton is now banned.

The boll weevil is just one of the cotton-loving insects that have challenged Heiden and his fellow Arizona cotton growers for decades.

He has not only survived the challenges, but has been a state and national industry leader, bringing growers together to cope with problems such as destructive pests.

Peter Ellsworth, University of Arizona IPM specialist, is one of those who nominated Heiden for the High Cotton Award. He has conducted many trials on the Heiden family’s 7,000 acre H Four Farms at Buckeye.

The UA entomologist says Heiden not only 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.”

Heiden does not shy away from using the inputs necessary to “take germplasm as far as it can go.”

Ellsworth notes that Heiden was a leader in helping the industry move through technology changes, including Bt cotton, which was first grown commercially in Arizona. He was instrumental in getting new insect growth regulators registered to turn back the whitefly, a pest Heiden says was the most devastating insect to plague Arizona cotton producers.

“Bruce was an early adopter of many of the key innovations that have moved production forward,” says Ellsworth.