Over 130 years.

Between them, that’s how long this year’s High Cotton Award winners have been farming. But, while they may have had a lot of opportunities to become set in their ways, these farmers rarely shy away from trying new technologies that will help them grow cotton profitably and in an environmentally friendly manner.

Since Farm Press Publications and The Cotton Foundation began the High Cotton Awards in 1995, we have chronicled the environmental stewardship efforts of 71 cotton producers. Since then, we’ve found that environmental stewardship and a willingness to try new technology go hand in hand.

That is certainly the case with this year’s High Cotton winners:

• Bruce Heiden, Buckeye, Ariz., Far West Region.

• Eric Seidenberger, Garden City, Texas, Southwest Region.

• Ray Makamson, Itta Bena, Miss., Mid-South Region.

• Ronnie Lee, Bronwood, Ga., Southeast Region.

 “These are some of the most environmentally conscientious producers we’ve featured in our 16 years of presenting the bronze Cotton Boll awards,” said Greg Frey, vice president for the Penton Media Inc. Agricultural Group, which publishes the Farm Presses.

“Some of them have been farming for a while, but they always put the environment and taking care of their land and water first.”

The High Cotton Awards are made possible through a grant from Farm Press to The Cotton Foundation. The winners receive an expenses-paid trip to the National Cotton Council’s Beltwide Cotton Conferences, which will be held in Atlanta, Jan. 4-7.

Co-sponsors of this year’s awards are Ace Pump Co., All-Tex Seed, Americot/NexGen, Arysta LifeScience, Deltapine, Helena Chemical Co., John Deere, Rio Tinto Minerals – U.S. Borax and Syngenta.

The winners and their families will be introduced by the editors of Southeast Farm Press, Delta Farm Press, Southwest Farm Press and Western Farm Press during a breakfast at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences in Atlanta.

Although he has more years of experience, W. Bruce Heiden, who finished his 58th crop in 2010, is still one of the most progressive and forward thinking cotton producers in the Far West, according to Western Farm Press editors Harry Cline and Cary Blake.

Heiden has faced numerous challenges, ranging from multiple insect pests that threatened not only to reduce yield but to take markets from Arizona cotton to urban encroachment that has only slowed down with the recession in the national economy.

Peter Ellsworth, University of Arizona IPM specialist, one of several who nominated Heiden for the High Cotton award, said Heiden has 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.”

Ellsworth said Heiden was a leader in helping the industry move through technology changes, including Bt cotton. He was instrumental in getting new insect growth regulators registered to turn back the whitefly, a pest Heiden said was the most devastating insect to befall Arizona cotton producers.

The whitefly not only caused yield loss, it created sticky cotton from the honeydew secreted by the hordes of whiteflies. That was more devastating than the pest because Arizona growers could not sell any of their cotton. Textile mills refused to buy Arizona cotton — sticky or not.

“We used to be able to forward contract, but when the whitefly came in, no one would buy Arizona cotton unless it was tested in the warehouse and certified free of stickiness,” Heiden said. He and other growers took an Asian mill tour to talk with buyers and explain to them that not all Arizona cotton was sticky and what growers were doing to control whiteflies.

“The cost of water in many areas is very high. Inputs keep going up. We saw $1 cotton in 2008 and are seeing it again now, but overall the price of cotton has been low over the past three or four years. It has not been high enough to sustain cotton in Arizona.”