Farmers and ranchers befittingly are often touted as the original environmentalists for taking care of the land for passage to the next generation of producers to continue raising crops and animals to feed and clothe the world.

Respect for the land was evident as Farm Press Publications and The Cotton Foundation honored the winners of the 2012 High Cotton Awards at a Jan. 5 breakfast at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences in Orlando, Fla.

In its 18th year, the High Cotton program honors full-time cotton farmers who consistently produce high-quality cotton profitably while employing environmentally sound production practices.

“Farming is about stewardship, fellowship, and passion,” said Shawn Holladay of Lamesa, Texas who received the High Cotton Award for the Southwest States. “My wife Julie and I have farmed all of our lives and every penny has come from the land. We are the stewards of the country and we’re very passionate about it.”

2011 was a tough year on the Holladay farm as record-setting drought and temperatures parched the landscape season long. Total rainfall during the crop year totaled a mere three-quarter inch. High temperatures and daily winds pushing 45 miles per hour limited irrigation efficiency.

Despite the poor weather, Holladay never wavered from his commitment to stay with his production plan and keep the land worked and ready to make a crop.

Holladay accepted the bronzed cotton boll statue presented to all High Cotton winners from Southwest Farm Press Editor Ron Smith.

“The most useless piece of equipment on a West Texas farm last year was a rain gauge,” Smith quipped.

Coley Bailey, Jr. of Coffeeville, Miss., received the High Cotton Award for the Delta States from Elton Robinson, Delta Farm Press editor. Bailey’s ongoing commitment is to farm as efficiently as possible. He choreographs the farm’s cotton picking operation from start to finish.

“Every day I get to get up and do what I love to do,” Bailey said. “It’s an honor to be selected for the High Cotton Award.”

The Bailey family grows 3,500 acres of dryland cotton in Yalobusha and Grenada counties. One of the farms was previously owned by James Polk, the 11th president of the United States.

Bailey shares a deep respect for the land. He converted his crop land to no till and grows wheat as a cover crop. He conducts about five EQIP projects a year using the farm’s excavator and bulldozer.

“We have a lot more water-holding capacity,” Bailey said. “Earthworms leave tunnels in the ground, and when the wheat roots decay after we spray Roundup, all those channels seem to hold water. A lot of times, after a 2-inch rain, hardly any water will run off the field.”

Robinson noted Bailey’s work with a nearby paper mill to take ash from the paper production process and apply it to the farmland. The ash provides all of the farm’s fertility needs, except for nitrogen.

Don Cameron of Helm, Calif., is the Western States High Cotton winner. Cameron grows 26 crops on 7,000 acres under the banners of Terranova Ranch and Prado Farms in western Fresno County.

“Thirty-one years ago I had no idea I’d be in farming and planting cotton,” Cameron said at the breakfast. “We love what we do and thank God everyday for what we do. The High Cotton Award is a big honor for me.”

Cameron graduated from college with dreams of a long career as a wildlife biologist. A strange set of events steered him to a lifelong career in agriculture.

Today, Cameron may be the only cotton farmer in the U.S. to grow organic, conventional, and biotech Pima cotton and Upland/Acala cotton.

As with the other winners, Cameron is committed to the long-term care of the land. When he began farming, the salt-filled soils were almost unfit for agricultural production.

Western Farm Press Editor Harry Cline said, “Three decades ago Terranova Ranch could have been called Alkali Flats Ranch. That ground was so tough Cameron was hard pressed to get a stand of alfalfa or cotton or anything else when he started farming. Three decades of systematic reclamation has produced ground that will annually grow 4-bale cotton and 70 tons of processing tomatoes per acre today.”

The Southeast States High Cotton winner is Kent Wannamaker of St. Matthews, S.C. Starting from scratch in the cotton business was a tough row to hoe for Wannamaker. He and his wife Mary Lil operate a thriving cotton, peanut, and corn operation on 3,000 acres. Wannamaker is also a partner in a cotton gin.

A land steward, Wannamaker was one of the first farmers in Calhoun County to adopt strip-tillage planting which he says prevents soil erosion and improves water infiltration on the highly erodible land he farms.

Named South Carolina Conservationist of the Year in 2004, Wannamaker’s other stewardship accolades include selection as the South Carolina “Farmer of the Year” by Swisher International in 2008. Today, Wannamaker serves a commissioner with the Calhoun County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Wannamaker said, “We look forward to the years ahead to continue to do what we love to do.”

The award was presented by Southeast Farm Press Associate Editor Roy Roberson.

Co-sponsors of the 2012 High Cotton Awards include Dow AgroSciences, Helena Chemical Company, John Deere Company, MANA Crop Protection, Syngenta Crop Protection, and U.S. Borax.