The High Cotton Awards Breakfast, held annually at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences, has had a number of memorable moments through its 16 years.

But the 2010 High Cotton Awards, which are sponsored by The Cotton Foundation and Farm Press Publications, may be noteworthy for a challenge issued by a winner at a time when U.S. cotton has seen more than its share of ups and downs.

“When I look across this room, it’s amazing how much knowledge and how much technology is sitting here,” said Delta states winner Jimmy Hargett of Bells, Tenn. “Let me challenge everyone of you to do what we need to do to keep this cotton industry alive.”

The 2010 Beltwide Cotton Conferences, which are held annually by the National Cotton Council, seemed to generate more optimism than any gathering of cotton farmers has produced in a while. But everyone who came to honor the four High Cotton winners in New Orleans understood the seriousness behind Hargett’s request.

As has happened with winners during other breakfasts, Hargett was almost overcome with emotion when he was introduced by Elton Robinson, editor of Delta Farm Press.

“I don’t know whether I can get through this or not, and I’m never speechless,” said Hargett, who drew a laugh from audience members who have rarely seen him at a loss for words. “We’ve got the highest quality cotton in the world. Let’s do our best to make this industry great.”

Hargett, who farms about 5,000 acres, including 1,700 acres of cotton, in West Tennessee, said he had heard the saying years ago that behind every good man is a woman who is pushing or pulling. “That’s a pusher right there,” he said, pointing to wife, Pat.

“When they told me I was going to receive this award, I said I wanted every family member present,” he added. “I’ve lost 20 friends in the last 24 months, most of them my age, and you never know what’s going to happen.”

He introduced each of his children – Stoney, Jennifer, Darla, Tiffany and Austin – and noted his five grandchildren were present. “Those five are not involved in farming yet, but y’all are looking at a family farm,” he said. “Every one of them is involved in the family farming operation. They help me accomplish what I accomplish, and I want to thank every one of them.”

Generally credited as the driving force behind five and six-row pickers and the module-building picker, Hargett has been a strong advocate for the cotton industry and for helping lower production costs in his 48 years of farming.

He has also been a good example of the conservation ethic in American farmers, building numerous terraces and grass waterways to keep soil and crop nutrients on his fields and becoming an adopter of no-till and minimum-tillage farming.

Allen Pierucci, the Far West High Cotton winner who is the third generation of his family to farm in the Buttonwillow area of California, said winning the award and being recognized for his conservation and production efforts was “special.”

“Most of all I want to thank Ernie Schroeder Jr. (president of Jess Smith and Son Cotton Co.,) for nominating me and, most of all, my wife, Lori, for putting up with me. Most of you know that a farmer always brings his job home. And the wife hears about it 24/7.”

Pierucci received his award from Western Farm Press editor Harry Cline.

Southeast winner Mike Griffin also expressed his hope that the nation will develop a greater appreciation for cotton and for U.S. agriculture in accepting the bronze replica of a cotton boll that is presented to winners.

Griffin, who began farming near his home in Suffolk, Va., after a successful career as a nuclear electrician at Norfolk Naval Yard, “genuinely loves being involved in cotton production. To receive such an award for doing something I so strongly believe in is truly a great honor.

“We provide our citizens with the safest and cheapest food available in the world today,” he said in accepting the High Cotton Award for Southeast Farm Press editor Roy Roberson. “It is one of my greatest wishes that our nation’s leaders have the wisdom to covet and protect the viability of U.S. agriculture for the generations to come.”

Roberson said he had learned of a situation that demonstrated how committed Griffin is to preserving the future of agriculture shortly before he came to Beltwide.

“I received an e-mail from a 12-year-old girl from northern Virginia named Amena, asking if I knew someone she could talk to about cotton,” said Roberson. “I sent the e-mail to Mike and asked if he could communicate with the girl and let her know about cotton.”

A few days before Beltwide, Roberson said he received an e-mail from Mike telling him the girl and her father had driven three hours to Griffin’s farm where they spent the day touring the cotton gin and driving a cotton picker. “Mike’s e-mail concluded with the words: “I don’t know who had more fun, Amena or me.”

Jeff Posey, the Southwest High Cotton winner from Roby, Texas, said he’s learned that surrounding himself with family and friends – and learning from them – has been the key to his success as a cotton producer and steward of the soil and water in west Texas.

“I can think of several people in our country who would be much more deserving of this, but it is a great honor,” he said. “Some years ago a young crop consultant working for Helena Chemical introduced me to friends over in Nolan County, one county away. And it’s been a learning process ever since.”

Posey, who farms with his father, Ted, and sons, Stuart and Joe, said that about the time cotton farmers think they have it all figured out, something happens to disabuse them of that notion.

“In 2007 (when Texas had record-breaking yields), we thought we knew everything there is to know about cotton. Mother Nature taught us that we don’t know anything this past year with the drought that we’ve had. It’s always a learning curve; it’s always a process.

“I’m surrounded by a great family and a farm family. The entire cotton industry is a one big family, and we all need to work together,” he said after accepting his award from Southwest Farm Press editor Ron Smith.”

The High Cotton Awards have been presented by the Farm Press Publications – Delta, Southeast, Southwest and Western Farm Press – through a grant to The Cotton Foundation for 16 years. A total of 70 farmers have been honored.

“The High Cotton awards represent the best of the best the cotton industry has to offer,” said Greg Frey, vice president of the Penton Media Agricultural Group, which publishes the Farm Presses and powers its Web sites: http://westernfarmpress.com; http://deltafarmpress.com; http://southeastfarmpress.com and http://southwestfarmpress.com.

Cosponsors of this year’s awards are All-Tex Seed; Americot, Inc.; Arysta LifeScience; Delta and Pine Land; Greenleaf Technologies; John Deere Co.; Helena Chemical Co.; Syngenta Crop Protection; and U.S. Borax, Inc.

email: flaws@farmpress.com