The cotton industry is often compared to a large, extended family whose members may fight among themselves at times but, in the end, come together to achieve a common goal.

That feeling of family was very much in evidence as Farm Press Publications and The Cotton Foundation saluted the winners of 2011 High Cotton awards at a breakfast at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences in Atlanta today.

“I started off in the grain business and then spent 20 years in the peanut business,” said Ronnie Lee, who received the High Cotton Award for the Southeast. “I’ve been in the cotton business since 1995. All the industries are good, but the cotton industry is the greatest.”

Lee, who farms 3,500 acres to 4,200 acres of cotton annually with members of his own family near Bronwood, Ga., was referring to the special nature of cotton after accepting the bronzed Cotton Boll trophy that is presented to High Cotton winners from Southeast Farm Press Editor Paul Hollis.

Industry together

“The people, the way the industry is structured, all the programs and having help on the farm bill and other issues – that’s what makes the cotton industry great,” he said. “The cotton industry, all segments of it, are together at the end.”

Lee, whose family farm operation includes a gin, a cotton merchandising concern and a grain trucking company, has served on the American Cotton Producers, the organization which represents the cotton producers segment. He also is chairman of the Farm Services Agency state committee in Georgia.

Cotton industry members help set the standard for agriculture organizations,” said Far West High Cotton winner Bruce Heiden of Buckeye, Ariz.,, after accepting the bronze award from Western Farm Press Editor Harry Cline.

“The cotton industry has been very good to our family. You’ve heard some of the things we’ve been involved in. We also are involved in other ag organizations, and I’m here to tell you, as I think Ronnie said before, cotton people are probably the best without question and the most effective, and I think that’s something for this industry to be very proud of.

“The whole cotton industry, as Ronnie pointed out earlier, is so organized, and we need that organization,” said Ray Makamson, the High Cotton Award winner from the Delta Region wsho hails from Itta Bena, Miss. “We need to be represented in Washington in a way that we can use our strength.

“This is just such a great industry to be a part of,” said Eric Seidenberger, the Southwest High Cotton winner from Garden City, Texas. “In a profession that does not get recognized very often for awards, I am humbled and honored to receive this award.”

Super Bowl MVP

Seidenberger, who farms 2,950 acres – most of it cotton – said he was highly honored to be selected for the High Cotton award program, which marked its 17th year in 2011.

“Being a big football fan, I told my wife, Christy, I felt like I won the MVP at the Super Bowl. It really is the MVP among Southwest cotton producers. But there are many young farmers in my area and in the Southwest who are just as qualified as I am to receive this award.

Saying he “didn’t know where to start,” Southeast winner Ronnie Lee said he was very honored to receive the High Cotton award. “The only way I can do what I do is with the help of my family and my employees. All these things they talk about are things we producers all do.

“We just do it because that’s what we’re supposed to do. I always tell my boys we just need to do what’s right.”

Delta Farm Press Editor Elton Robinson, who presented the bronze Cotton Boll award to Makamson, said it was easy to see the Mid-South regional winner is considered a leader among his peers.

“It’s not just one thing; it’s several,” said Robinson. “It starts with a forward-thinking management style. He’s always thinking ahead. When it’s planting time, Ray is usually focusing on what he needs to do to make irrigation and the harvest go smoothly.”

Giving back to community

Besides having one of the most environmentally friendly farming operations in the Mississippi Delta, if not in the entire country, Makamson also has a special relationship with his employees at a time when labor shortages are hampering many farming operations.

“The relationship between Ray and his employees is neat. His workers are all from the Greenwood, Miss., area, and some are the sons of men who worked for him in the past. Ray has steadfastly given back to the community of this Mississippi town by hiring from the local labor pool.”

flaws@farmpress.com