By Mary Catherine Gaston
If you are from rural Georgia and you don’t know about the annual Sunbelt Agricultural Expo, you are part of a very small crowd. Held in Moultrie every October since 1977, Sunbelt is the largest farm show in North America, boasting more than 1,200 exhibitors on a 100-acre show site. In addition, about 300 seminars will take place during this year’s event, while farm equipment and technology demonstrations will be held on the expo’s 600-acre experimental farm.
Keep reading for a few fun facts to take with you to Moultrie this week…and don’t forget to stop by and visit with the Rural Center team in the ABAC building (B-7 on your expo map)!
· The Sunbelt Expo actually began as Dealer Days on the campus of Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in 1964. Back then, farm equipment dealers from around southwest Georgia brought the latest equipment to the Tifton campus for students to see and try out. Many ABAC students made connections that resulted in jobs—even full careers!—after their ABAC degrees were completed.
· Stock dog trials have been a fun, family-oriented favorite at the expo since 1988. From Monday to Thursday, 120 dogs (and their human handlers) will compete in two divisions—one for novice pairs and another for more experienced pups.
· For the past 30 years during the expo, Swisher International has named the Southeastern Farmer of the Year. State Farmer of the Year award recipients vie for the title, which comes with a $15,000 cash award and other prizes. 2019 Georgia Farmer of the Year Robert Dickey of Dickey Farms in Musella is one contender. Read more about Dickey Farms and their famous peach ice cream on our blog.
· You may recall that the expo grounds entertained an unwelcome visitor just a week before the 2018 event kicked off. Hurricane Michael barreled through southwest Georgia October 10, 2018, as a category 3 storm, slamming the Moultrie area with winds as high as 100 MPH. Less than one week later on the expo’s opening day, a very special (and welcome) guest, Vice President Mike Pence, spoke to about 1,000 expo attendees as part of his tour of hurricane damage in the state.
· Each year the expo is hosted by one of the 10 southeastern states involved in the event. This year’s Spotlight State is North Carolina, and the theme is “Mountains to the Sea: Diversified Agriculture, Unified Vision.” The state that leads the nation in the production of sweet potatoes is also home to Lance snack foods, Cheerwine and Mt. Olive pickles…so the Spotlight State building promises to be a must-stop location!
· The Rural Center is currently analyzing the Expo’s impact on the regional and local economies of south Georgia. Similar studies in the past estimated the Expo’s total economic impact to be in the range of $16 million to $20 million every year. Our study is expected to be complete in early 2020 and will be posted on the Rural Center’s publications page.
· If you’re as big a Sunbelt Expo fan as we are at the Rural Center, you might enjoy this little blast from the past by one of the South’s best-known ag writers, Paul Hollis. The 2007 article takes a very personal look back over the then-30-year history of a true “Southern success story,” including Hollis’ own memories of the very first expo in 1977.
Aerial photo of the 2018 expo courtesy of Sunbelt Agricultural Expo. Post title, "A Showcase of Rural Living," quoted from Sunbelt Executive Director Chip Blalock.