A plaque in the kitchen of Johnny Little’s boyhood home succinctly states his father’s formula for cotton production: “Pray for a good harvest — but continue to hoe.”

As one might guess, the connection between prayer and hard work was not paradoxical for the elder Little, although his son, Johnny, winner of the 2013 High Cotton award for the Delta states, will attest it leaned heavily toward the work side of the formula.

John Morgan “Buddy” Little, an ex-Marine, passed away in the spring of 2012 at 89, leaving his son to carry on as the farm’s primary proprietor. Johnny’s philosophy differs slightly from his father’s — “Hard work comes easier when you enjoy what you do.”

Little farms 1,175 acres of cotton and 350 acres of corn near Holcomb, Miss. He and his wife, Patrice, have been married for 25 years, and have three daughters, Aubrey, Melinda, and Melissa, all between 31 and 32 years old, and five grandchildren, four boys and a girl.Johnny Little

According to Bayer CropScience’s Steve McPeek, who nominated Little for the High Cotton award, “One thing that sets Johnny apart is that he is willing to try new things and think outside the box to address problems on his farm. He is willing to adapt to changes in production and the market.”

This includes cutting back on cotton acres for more corn and putting in three grain bins, as grain prices continue to show strength.

But says Little, “I’ll always have cotton in the mix because cotton has always paid our bills.”

His operation is based on maximizing efficiency by keeping equipment in tip-top shape, making variable-rate applications, using no-till, following label instructions and recommendations from his consultant to the lette, and of course, hard work.

On a recent day, Little’s picker operator, Josh Coffman, is steering a 10-year old John Deere 9986 through the nooks and crannies of a rolling, dryland field, followed by Little, hauling a boll buggy. Two temporary employees man two module builders at the edge of the field. Little’s uncle Bill Little, who’s 82, is running the stalk cutter.

Not many words are spoken, except when Coffman ribs Little for dropping a few pounds of seed cotton in the field. In short order, it’s vacuumed up with an attachment on the boll buggy.

As he climbs back into the boll buggy, Little repeats a favorite phrase: “That’s farming.”

As harvest continues, he and Coffman, who has been with him for eight years, make mental notes of any repairs or refurbishing that might be needed by the picker and other harvest equipment. After harvest, over the winter months, they’ll spend time in the shop, getting equipment ready for spring. They do about 90 percent of the farm’s equipment repairs in-house, helping keep expenses to a minimum.

Cotton did surprisingly well for Little in 2012, despite a very dry summer. Irrigation and appropriate variety choices for dryland and irrigated fields are critical to making consistently good yields, he says.

For one of his tougher dryland fields, he selected ST 5288 B2F. “With as little rain as we had, and with the field being so sandy, we still ended up averaging around 1,000 pounds — that’s almost unheard of on this type of ground.”

DP 1034 B2RF was planted on dryland fields and DP 5458 B2R on irrigated land. About 600 acres of Little’s 1,500 acres of rolling farmland is irrigated with center pivots.