What is in this article?:
- Far West High Cotton winner meets Arizona challenges
- Stalwart of the cotton industry
- Whitefly crisis
- Pink bollworm eradication
- W. Bruce Heiden, Buckeye, Ariz., is this year’s Far West Farm Press/Cotton Foundation High Cotton Award winner, and is closing in on his sixth decade of growing cotton in an environment unlike that of any other U.S. Cotton Belt state.
- 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.
- Heiden has not only survived the challenges of Arizona cotton, but has been a state and national industry leader, bringing growers together to cope with problems such as destructive pests.
Stalwart of the cotton industry
Larry Antilla, director of the Arizona Cotton Research and Production Council, calls Heiden “one of the real stalwarts of the industry — if anyone deserves the High Cotton Award, it is Bruce Heiden.
“He is an absolute gentleman, a class act, one of the finest people I’ve ever known, and one of the best growers in the state. He has always had the best interests of the cotton industry foremost in his mind.”
Rick Lavis, executive director of the Arizona Cotton Growers Association, uses three words to describe Heiden: quiet, calm and leadership.
“In the 30 years I have known him, Bruce has always been the foundation of sound decisions within the Arizona Cotton Growers Association. He listens carefully, takes other viewpoints into consideration and is able to articulate the right decision and the right approach.”
Heiden served as National Cotton Council president during a federal farm bill renewal period, and Lavis recalls that he was a “very effective agent” in working with the seven council segments to create a unified cotton position on the legislation.
Ted Pierce, the 1998 Far West High Cotton Award winner, grew up in Buckeye with Heiden.
“As president of the National Cotton Council and chairman of the Calcot board, Bruce was a consensus builder. Bruce Heiden and Bill Scott are the two stalwarts of the Arizona cotton industry.”
Like Heiden, Scott has farmed in Arizona for more than 50 years. They have collaborated on many challenging issues that have faced the industry over the years.
“Bruce is a statesman and an excellent farmer,” says Scott, who is at Stanfield and is Heiden’s good friend. “He has demonstrated those qualities repeatedly when contentious issues are deliberated. Bruce is invariably the last one to speak — he sits back, thinks the issue through and then expresses his opinion. I’ve never known him to fail to be on target.”
As a long-time Calcot director and later the cooperative’s first chairman from Arizona, Heiden is well respected by his California peers.
John Pucheu, Tranquillity, Calif., cotton producer, has known Heiden since the mid-1980s and has also served as NCC president and Calcot chairman.
“Bruce is an outstanding person and super farmer,” he says. “He is totally dedicated to this industry.”
“It has been a pleasure working with Bruce,” says Kern County, Calif., cotton producer Charlie Fanucchi, immediate past chairman of Calcot’s board. “He is a totally honest person, soft spoken. But when he speaks people listen.”
Heiden and wife Helen’s four children — sons, Art, Les and Hal, and daughter Holly — grew up on the farm, and they continue as partners. Les’ two sons, Paul and Richard, have also joined the operation.
About half the family’s 7,000-acre operation is cotton; the rest is alfalfa hay, wheat, barley and corn. They also have a cattle feeding operation.
Heiden is a native Arizonan. His mother and father, Louise and Walter, along with Bruce’s two older brothers and a sister, moved to Arizona from Massachusetts at the height of the Great Depression.
Walter Heiden went to work as an auto mechanic in Buckeye and eventually for the local International Harvester farm equipment dealer. Bruce’s father leased about 340 acres in the early 1940s and grew the family’s first cotton crop. In 1947 Walter Heiden bought the home farm where Bruce now lives.
“We grew the old Acala cotton — it never yielded much above a bale and a half. We nearly starved to death growing that cotton. Deltapine introduced smoothleaf upland here in the 1960s, and it increased yields by a bale. The old Acala went away.”
All the children grew up on the family farm, hoeing cotton and working around the farm and feedlot. Hal became a pilot and eventually an aerial applicator, treating more than 1 million acres of cotton. He later became a commercial pilot and now spends part of his time on the farm when he’s not flying jet charters, including ferrying the Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks sports teams.