In their own ways, the four winners of the 2001 High Cotton awards are survivors - if not of a difficult economy then 2000's unusual weather conditions. But, all the adversity hasn't stopped them from being stewards of the environment.

The winners of this year's awards, which are sponsored by Farm Press Division of Intertec through a grant to The Cotton Foundation, are proof that farmers are the real environmentalists, striving to take care of their land while ensuring that their families can continue to enjoy their way of life.

"That's what the High Cotton awards are all about," says Mike Gonitzke, publisher of the Farm Press Publications. "These farmers are trying new things to make their operations more successful, but they're also vitally concerned about their surroundings."

The 2001 winners are:

- Thomas Waller, Trenton, N.C.

- David Wildy, Manila, Ark.

- Doc and Danny Davis, Elk City, Okla.

- Richard "Dick" Newton, Stratford, Calif.

2001 marks the sixth year that Farm Press has honored farmers from each of its four coverage regions - the Southeast, Delta, Southwest and Far West. This year's awards are co-sponsored by Delta and Pine Land Co., Deere and Co., Griffin L.L.C., Helena Chemical Co., Southern States Cooperative, Inc., and Zeneca Ag Products.

"Make no mistake, farming is competitive and farmers are looking for every advantage they can in these tough economic times. Nevertheless, Jones Farms is an open book," said Harry Cline, editor of Western Farm Press, writing about Far West winner Dick Newton's farming operation.

"He talks freely and without hesitation about his successes, but just as importantly he shares his mistakes so others might not make them, too."

In an article in this special High Cotton issue, Cline writes about Newton taking care of an errant homing pigeon during the midst of the cotton harvest last fall. "The pigeon was an unwanted intrusion," he writes. "Rain was all around and time running short. Newton, however, considered the pigeon worth his time."

"Conservation is a long-standing tradition on this farm, which stretches back to Doc's grandparents, who started the farm by filing for acreage," says Ron Smith, editor of Southwest Farm Press, who wrote this issue's story about Southwest winners Doc and Danny Davis.

"My dad was a good steward of the soil," Smith quotes Doc Davis as saying. "He built shelter belts (wind breaks) and terraces, but he did not want to see a weed in his fields. He was an advocate of conservation before most folks."

The Davis father-and-son team has continued the tradition and has come up with new wrinkles for it, including switching most of the farm's acreage to no-till. "It saves soil. It saves water. It saves money," says Danny Davis. "And I can have a life and spend time with my family."

Delta region winner David Wildy is a student of cotton production who has turned his farm into a classroom aimed at producing cotton more efficiently and in a more environmentally friendly way, writes Elton Robinson, editor of Delta Farm Press.

"We try to keep our minds and eyes open and not say we're doing it right and this is the way to do it," Wildy is quoted as saying. "If you surround yourself with people who know more than you, you're going to do better. We're always looking for better, cheaper ways to do things that are more environmentally friendly."

Thomas Waller, the Southeast High Cotton winner, was caring for the environment before it was "cool," to borrow a phrase.

"When we first started working with him in 1984, his questions and concerns frequently centered around such issues as the environmental implications of herbicide choices or the impact of insecticide choices on beneficial insects," said Billy McLawhorn, owner of McLawhorn Crop Services Inc. McLawhorn was one of several persons who wrote letters in support of Waller's nomination.

"In more recent years, those concerns regarding water quality and basic integrated pest management issues evolved to include concern for resistance management strategies for both pesticides and bio-engineered cottons."

This year's High Cotton award winners will be honored at a breakfast meeting during the Beltwide Cotton Production Conferences in Anaheim, Calif. Posters depicting the winners and their farming operations will also be on display during the conferences.