I regret that it has come to this but in the interest of fairness we must make changes.

Consequently, beginning in 2007, all finalists for the Farm Press cotton and peanut awards must submit to blood tests to be certain no one uses performance-enhancing substances.

We have no reason to believe any previous winners achieved their honors by dubious means. In fact, we are willing to state our reputation on the integrity of past winners. We've found each recipient to be of the highest moral caliber and beyond reproach. But we must do all we can to assure the continued credibility of these programs. We can't risk seeing agricultural competition follow the poor examples of professional baseball and cycling.

And please consider the unfair advantage a farmer hopped up on performance-enhancing materials would have over unsuspecting neighbors. He would think nothing of popping out of bed in the wee hours of a morning to repair an irrigation system instead of staying in bed to get his needed rest.

And under the influence of performance-enhancing elements, one might expect farmers to stay on planters, sprayers, combines or cotton strippers way past normal quitting time to make certain they get needed chores accomplished ahead of a storm, cold front or other calamity. What an unfair advantage that would be!

Even worse, blood doping could encourage producers to walk their fields instead of driving by in pick-up trucks to check on insect, disease and weed pressure. Some would even resort to using hoes or bare hands to eliminate troublesome weeds from peanut or cotton fields.

One can imagine sneaky farmers, red-eyed from lack of sleep, staring at computer screens long after honest people have gone to bed, looking at spreadsheets, exploring marketing options and checking on weather patterns to achieve unfair advantage over their competitors.

We simply can not condone such inequitable production strategies if we intend to maintain any semblance of integrity in our awards program. And we call on other yield, conservation and management reward programs to follow our lead and require adequate testing.

We recognize the right to privacy but contend that testing will, in the long run, benefit all in the agricultural industry. We can foresee a time when farming comes with less stress, fewer long hours, and more certain markets, but it hasn't gotten that cold yet.

We probably should discuss the substances that concern us. Synthetic testosterone? Anabolic steroids? Lord no. Our folks are smarter than that.

We'll be looking for high concentrations of buttermilk, sweet tea, and other things that provide sudden bursts of raw energy. We'll check for extra spicy barbecue sauce, Texas Pete hot sauce, and jalapeno residue.

We'll also test for Southwestern baked beans. We don't need a blood test for that, however. We'll just get an intern to spend a few hours with nominees in a pick-up truck.

We'll allow reasonable residues of Lone Star beer, any wine from a Southwest vineyard, and other such dietary necessities. California wines will be on the suspect list, however, as will any beverage brewed in the Rocky Mountains.

We regret any inconvenience these tests might cause to potential contest winners, but without integrity we might as well go into politics.