John Wilde walks slowly between rows of waist-high cotton, stops at a stalk loaded top to bottom with large open bolls, and plucks a handful of fiber from the burrs. Pulling on the snow-white lint, he draws the fibers apart and marvels at the potential.

“Isn’t that a pretty sight?” he asks, pulling and stretching the pure white fibers out between his hands, and looking across the field that’s a large expanse of pure white under a cloudless, deep-blue Texas sky that seems to come only at harvest time.

It’s one of his best fields, and he expects it to make a bit better than 4 bales per acre. “Isn’t it amazing what water can do?” he says.

The field, near Miles, Texas, is watered by subsurface drip irrigation, as is 800 acres of the Wilde cotton operation, centered in San Angelo and including farms to the east near Miles and back west near St. Lawrence.

“We still water a few acres by furrow irrigation,” he says. He plants some dryland cotton, too, but most of the non-irrigated crop this year will produce little — slightly better than the 2011 crop, but nothing to speak of.

“Water is the key,” Wilde says. And he’s doing all he knows to make every drop count. Subsurface drip irrigation helps, as do reduced tillage and rotation; and subsoiling between the drip tape helps capture moisture. He uses furrow diking to reduce runoff, and also has CRP land where he installed wildlife vegetation strips. To reduce erosion, he added waterways and diversion terraces and seeded with native grasses.

He is committed, he says, to producing the best yields possible. He has three times earned membership in the FiberMax One-Ton Club. He’s also devoted to conserving soil and water so the land that has been in the family — some for as long as 100 years — will pass on to his heirs in better condition than when he took it over. In 2004 he was the San Angelo Area Conservation Farmer of the Year.

Wilde is also adamant about finding something to control root rot, the most economically devastating cotton disease in his area. He has a long term commitment to helping Texas AgriLife Research and Extension discover a management option for the disease.

This devotion to the farm and to practices that make the land better and more productive earned him the Farm Press/Cotton Foundations 2013 High Cotton Award for the Southwest region. He will be presented the award at a recognition breakfast at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences at San Antonio.

John Wilde loves the land. His farm, he says, is No. 3 on his list of treasures, behind only his wife of 37 years, Betty Jo, and his family, including sons Doug and Matt and daughters Joanna and Julie Garcia.

“My life is the farm,” he says. “Any land we buy, we typically never sell; it becomes part of my heart and soul  — and my family’s future. I’m not a wealthy man, but we’ve bought land, made payments, and it became ours.

About eight years ago, Wilde recognized the importance of increasing irrigation efficiency when they installed the first subsurface drip irrigation on 38 acres. Now they have 800 acres of drip-irrigated cotton. “We started small,” he says. “We had some of the first drip irrigation in the area, and we saw the benefits.”

Doug recalls visiting other farms and learning from their experience. “We saw a lot of drip laid out in 80-inch spacing,” the senior Wilde says. “ But we found that 40-inch spacing is more efficient. And we install the tape with Global Positioning System technology — it’s more accurate.”

They hired someone to install the first field, but bought their own GPS equipment and installed the rest on their own, including 250 acres last year. “I had to push to get it in,” Wilde says.

They plant on top of the drip tape and subsoil 10 to 12 inches deep between the rows. “That helps hold rainfall,” he says. “We can look at nearby fields after a rain and see runoff, but our field absorbs all the moisture.”