“We provide an environment that connects exhibitors and farmers so that they can share ideas and establish business relationships. And we continue to enhance environmental and economic sustainability, which go hand-in-hand.” –Chip Blalock, Sunbelt Ag Expo
It was a year of disruptions. Throughout 2020, businesses and organizations canceled fairs, festivals, and large events to combat the escalation of COVID-19.
One of South Georgia’s pandemic casualties was the Sunbelt Ag Expo, which each year welcomes more than 80,000 visitors and 1,200 vendors to Spence Field in Moultrie, Georgia.
For more than four decades, the Sunbelt Ag Expo has provided a venue to connect farmers with agricultural vendors and researchers. However, last year, for the first time since it began in 1978, the Sunbelt Ag Expo, North America’s Premier Farm Show, was canceled.
It wasn’t an easy decision, but the Sunbelt team quickly pivoted and created a series of blogs and videos to stay connected with farmers and the agriculture industry.
“By the time October rolled around, we knew most people would be tired of virtual shows,” says Chip Blalock, executive director of the Sunbelt Ag Expo. “The blogs and videos highlight parts of the expo on social media and our website.”
The multi-media series highlights expo events and the latest in agricultural research and technology, including hay and livestock production, water conservation efforts, backyard gardening, youth educational initiatives, and the annual Farmer of the Year competition.
“Georgia Farm Bureau is proud to be a longtime partner with the Sunbelt Expo. Helping visitors at the annual event learn the importance of Georgia’s number one industry, agriculture’s impact on the state’s economy, and the role farmers play in a safe and abundant food supply has long been our goal.” –Kenny Burgamy, Georgia Farm Bureau
Attendees and exhibitors are excited to return to Moultrie for the 43rd Annual Sunbelt Ag Expo on Oct. 19-21, 2021. “We’re making a safe re-entry the main priority,” Blalock says. “While we have some exhibits indoor, most are outside. So, it’s still a fluid situation but not like last year.”
More than a farm show, Blalock says, “We provide an environment that connects exhibitors and farmers so that they can share ideas and establish business relationships. And we continue to enhance environmental and economic sustainability, which go hand-in-hand.”
Held each year on the third week in October, the Spence Field site has approximately 1.6 million square feet of exhibit space filled with vendors representing every imaginable product and service that benefits agribusiness, as well as the average family.
The three-day schedule includes the latest in agriculture technology and equipment, along with more than 300 seminars and demonstrations focused on topics like livestock, cooking, gardening, backyard safety, fish and pond management, hunting and fishing, family living, and even stock dog trials.
Featuring something for everyone, Blalock says, “We have vendors and companies that have been with us since we started 44 years ago, and we continue to add new exhibits and demonstrations.”
In 2019, Fredando Jackson, executive director of Flint River Fresh, became part of the expo. Affectionately known as Farmer Fredo, Jackson helps create community gardens to increase food accessibility and minimize hunger, especially in low-income areas.
Developing future agricultural leaders and professionals is the goal of the Expo’s Youth Educational Opportunities. During the expo, students in sixth through 12th grades participate in a series of agricultural-based competitions.
A few favorites among visitors include exhibits and demonstrations in the Georgia Agriculture Building. Sponsored by Georgia Farm Bureau and Georgia Grown, displays provide a wealth of information about the importance of farming and agribusiness.
“Georgia Farm Bureau is proud to be a longtime partner with the Sunbelt Expo,” says Kenny Burgamy, Georgia Farm Bureau, director of information and public relations. “Helping visitors at the annual event learn the importance of Georgia’s number one industry, agriculture’s impact on the state’s economy, and the role farmers play in a safe and abundant food supply has long been our goal.”
The Georgia Grown exhibit, which extends to the Family Life Building, is a one-stop-shop for purveyors of all things made, crafted, and grown in Georgia. Visitors can also watch cooking demonstrations from celebrity chefs, including Georgia Grown Chef Holly Chute, who whips up delicious meals using locally sourced products.
During the expo, visitors can stroll through the Darrell Williams Research Farm, where more than 600 acres of cotton, peanuts, corn, soybeans, and hay are grown and harvested. Operating all year, the farm serves as an outdoor lab for world-class agricultural research.
The research farm also welcomes more than 300 farmers during the annual Field Day. Serving as a precursor to the Sunbelt Ag Expo, the half-day event—usually held in July—gives farmers an upfront look at the latest in technology and research advancement.
“Field day is a sneak preview of the expo, and it’s when we show crops in various growing stages,” Blalock says. “Farmers can look at new seed varieties and pest control techniques, soil fertility, precision ag, and irrigation. Field day is what starts the wheels turning for agronomic decisions the farmers make for the following year.”
When last year’s COVID 19 situation remained uncertain, expo organizers adjusted the Field Day format. “We typically put farmers on trollies and take them to each site,” Blalock says. “There was no way to socially distance on the trollies, so we developed a drive-thru tour.”
From the convenience and safety of their vehicle, farmers drove to each of the 30 sites and listened to pre-recorded segments highlighting various research projects.
Farmers needing more information could pull to the side of the plot for one-on-one discussions with the researcher or vendor.
“The best part is the videos stay on our website,” he says. “Farmers who didn’t attend or needed a refresher could watch the video again.”
Feeding Economic Growth
After more than four decades of expansion, it’s no surprise that the Sunbelt Ag Expo is one of Georgia’s largest agricultural events and generates more than $16 million in economic impact.
A study conducted by the University of Georgia Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development identified that the Sunbelt Ag Expo’s economic reach spans beyond Moultrie and Colquitt County. The 20-county economic impact includes $11 million in state and local taxes, 187 full and part-time jobs, and $5.10 million associated income generated for employees and proprietors.
In addition to the Sunbelt Ag Expo and Field Day, activities at Spence Field include two Calico Arts and Craft Shows (spring and fall), multiple car events, and various agricultural equipment demonstrations.