Five U.S. producers accepted the 2015 Farm Press High Cotton Award Jan. 6 during the second day of the Beltwide Cotton Conferences held in San Antonio, Texas.
In accepting the awards, the five High Cotton winners - Rick Morgan, George Lacour, Ronnie and R.N. Hopper, and Mark Watte – credited their successes in cotton production to their families, production efficiencies, top yields, and environmental stewardship.
Rick Morgan, Southeast Farm Press’ High Cotton Award winner, told the breakfast crowd, “I want to thank my parents for the opportunity to farm. That’s all I ever wanted to do after college.”
Morgan stated that his family and employees “deserve the award as much as I do.”
The seventh generation producer’s ongoing mission is to improve land quality on the family farm located in Corapeake, N.C. Morgan shifted the land to 100 percent no till a decade ago which has substantially imporoved soil quality, reduced erosion and water use, and kept nitrogen where it belongs.
Cotton producer George Lacour of Morganza, La. accepted the High Cotton Award from Delta Farm Press. George Lacour Farms grows cotton, corn, and soybeans in south-central Louisiana adjacent to the Mississippi River.
Lacour says, “The biggest challenge I have is costs. (Luckily) cotton is fairly easy to manage.”
Despite current lower cotton prices, Lacour is in the cotton business for the long haul.
The producer said, “This industry will turn around and will live a better day.”
Only 20 percent of Lacour’s land can be irrigated, yet he works hard to improve watering efficiency and field drainage to reduce soil erosion. Part of his acreage is in trees as part of a wildlife corridor to provide habitat access for the area’s black bear population.
Minimum tillage is practiced as the weather permits.
Father Ronnie and son R.N. Hopper of Petersburg, Texas accepted the award from Southwest Farm Press. The Hoppers told the crowd that change is constant on the farm operation.
In 2006, the farm grew mostly continuous cotton and has since shifted to a rotation of cotton, wheat, and sunflower. The operation went 100 percent no till in 2008 to conserve water, soil, and other components.
One of the best moves a producer can implement to help farming success, says Ronnie, is to inspect and evaluate the farm on a regular basis.
Ronnie told the crowd, “The best fertilizer in the field is the farmer’s foot – being in the field checking the crop.”
R.N. says weather is the biggest challenge on their farm located about 60 miles north of Lubbock with an annual rainfall of about 26 inches. In the worst of the Texas drought several years ago, the Hopper farm received just four inches of rain all year.
Mark Watte of Tulare, Calif. earned the Western Farm Press High Cotton Award. His cotton acreage is an equal split between Pima and Acala cottons.
Watte acknowledged cotton for its benefits yesteryear and today for agriculture as a whole.
“Over the years, cotton has been our moneymaker and has paid the bills,” said the third generation producer.
Watte says cotton led to the infrastructure development in California’s famed San Joaquin Valley where he farms, a region described by many as the most productive farm land in the world.
Gin manager Stan Creelman calls the Watte family’s Acala cotton crop “top of the line.” The high quality combined with roller ginning the fiber allows Watte to earn premium prices commonly paid for Pima cotton.
Watte acknowledged the importance of his family, saying, “My most successful project are our three children, 10 grandchildren, which Joanne (Mark’s wife) has played an important role in raising.”
The High Cotton Awards are sponsored by the Farm Press Publications and The Cotton Foundation.
Farm Press Publisher Greg Frey says, “The High Cotton Awards continue to identify producers who are the best of the best when it comes to producing a high quality, profitable crop in an environmentally responsible manner.
2015 marks the 21st year of the High Cotton Awards program. Nearly 100 producers have received the award across the U.S. Cotton Belt since the program’s inception.