2009 High Cotton Winners Display Environmental Ethic in Communities
Jimmy Dodson uses border strips to avoid drifting pesticides onto his neighbors’ lawns. Mike Tate is considered to be a “preferred” neighbor among residents in his community. Jason Luckey spends hours telling agriculture’s story to community organizations. Danny Locke shows small groups of other farmers what he’s doing to make his operation more environmentally friendly.
SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Jimmy Dodson uses border strips to avoid drifting pesticides onto his neighbors’ lawns. Mike Tate is considered to be a “preferred” neighbor among residents in his community. Jason Luckey spends hours telling agriculture’s story to community organizations. Danny Locke shows small groups of other farmers what he’s doing to make his operation more environmentally friendly.
These are challenging times for farmers, but the winners of this year’s High Cotton awards are showing they’re willing to go the extra mile to make a difference on the environmental front in their communities and in their industry.
The winners of this year’s High Cotton awards, sponsored by The Cotton Foundation through a grant from Farm Press Publications, also have a story to tell when it comes to what they’re doing to take care of their soil, water and the air.
“We continue to be impressed with the number of Sunbelt farmers who are doing exactly the right thing when it comes to the environment,” says Greg Frey, publisher of the Farm Presses. “We’ve always known that farmers are the true stewards of the soil, air and water. This year’s High Cotton winners exemplify the best of the best.”
Mark Nichols, president of The Cotton Foundation from Altus, Okla., said the High Cotton awards program continues to “set the bar high for U.S. cotton producers’ conservation efforts by spotlighting these environmental stewardship leaders. Farm Press editors are to be commended for once again ferreting out the cream of the crop – and sharing those inspirational techniques with all of us in the Cotton Belt.”
This is the 15th year for the High Cotton awards, which are presented annually during the National Cotton Council’s Beltwide Cotton Conferences. This year’s recipients will be honored at a breakfast at the conferences in San Antonio, Texas, Jan. 5-8.
Dodson, the High Cotton winner from the Southwest, says he learned much of his environmental ethic from his late father, Giles, who started farming near Corpus Christi in 1937. Jimmy’s grandfather came to the Coastal Bend of Texas in 1900.
“My Dad taught me a lot about stewardship as a concept, and how stewardship for the land results in leaving it better than I found it,” Dodson said. “From him I learned to always try to find a better way of doing things. I’m trying to reduce tillage to limit erosion, and we’re doing a better job than we were 15 years ago. We’re keeping dust from blowing and keeping nutrients where they belong. We farm a lot on the edge of town so we try to find ways to minimize drift and odor. We want to be good neighbors.”
Mike Tate, this year’s Southeast High Cotton award winner, can trace his farming roots back several generations. But Tate is concerned about making sure the land he farms with other family members in Madison County, Ala., is there for future generations.
Tate Farms has gradually converted all of its land to no-till, resulting in a number of benefits, including improved soil structure, improved soil erosion control, increased soil moisture retention, increased cation exchange capacity, decreased soil compaction and decreased energy use.
“Although the goal was to find a solution that would allow continuous cotton production, this instead led us to look at other cover crops, which have the added benefit of protecting our soil during the winter months,” says Tate.
Like Dodson, the Tates are dealing with increased urbanization. Area schools and residents of subdivisions have voiced concerns, especially during boll weevil eradication. But Mike has always been willing to listen and has strived to be a good neighbor. In fact, Tate Farms is considered the preferred neighbor by many in the area.
Jason Luckey, this year’s Mid-South winner, is also finding himself in an increasingly urban environment. While that means more food and fiber for farmers to supply, it’s also convinced Luckey of the need for farmers to be more proactive on environmental and economic issues.
“There are houses now where fields used to be,” says Luckey of the area around where he and other family members farm near Humboldt, Tenn. “If you read and educate yourself, then you can speak of agriculture with some knowledge.”
Danny Locke, this year’s High Cotton winner from the Far West, routinely holds field days to show area farmers some of the new technology that’s being tested on his farming operation in Fresno County in California’s San Joaquin Valley. One of the biggest draws in recent months has been a 50-horsepower solar energy system that drives an irrigation pump and provides power for the farm shop and Pikalok Farming’s main farm residence. Tours are frequently hosted by Locke’s daughter and son-in-law, Mari and Gary Martin.
For years, Danny, a wrangler and horseman, has donated his horses, mules and wagoneering skills to a historical program in the Madera, Calif. schools that takes fifth graders on wagon train expeditions to relive history. Locke says he is often “roped” into volunteering his time for the wagon train, but his quick, hearty chuckle that follows makes you believe it was not hard to get Locke to say yes, a characteristic that seems to hold true for all of this year’s High Cotton winners.