Vice President Mike Pence, in a surprise visit to the Sunbelt Agricultural Expo in Moultrie, Ga., Tuesday, pledged the “full support of the Administration, USDA and Congress to bring Southwest Georgia and the Sunbelt region back and make it better than before,” on his way to tour the area ravaged by Hurricane Michael.
Pence, in brief remarks at the annual Southeast Farmer of the Year Awards luncheon, said, “We will stay with you until we succeed.”
He told the crowd gathered to honor the farmer of the year that he had planned to visit the region and decided to visit the Sunbelt Ag Expo, “When we heard that an agricultural expo was still going on. But I was not surprised.”
He praised Southwest Georgia farmers for their resilience, their character and their faith. “You are an inspiration to the American people,” he said. “Damage from the hurricane goes far beyond loss to businesses and homes. It has had a drastic impact on Sunbelt agriculture and the American people need to know it.”
Pence said latest estimates put damage to Georgia agriculture at some $2 billion, with cotton, peanuts and pecans suffering as much as 90 percent losses in some areas. He said poultry houses also suffered heavy damage from the “once in a generation storm.”
Almost a week after Michael roared across the Florida Panhandle and Southwest Georgia and into the Carolinas and Virginia as a diminished but still damaging storm, the hurricane remained a palpable presence at the 41st annual Sunbelt Agricultural Expo.
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, a Georgia native who introduced Pence, said coming to the Expo this year was “a little like attending a funeral. We come for comfort and solace.”
He said Sunbelt is always a time and place for rejoicing, “but we are mindful of farmers in Southwest Georgia, Southeast Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.” He also assured the audience that the Trump Administration would provide necessary assistance to bring the region back. He hailed agriculture as “the bedrock of the American economy.”
In an earlier presentation, American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall said he has worked with the Administration, USDA and Congress to secure assistance and encouraged farmers to “get outside your own fence rows and talk to congressmen, senators and the administration. “Tell your stories.”
Sunbelt Expo Executive Director Chip Blalock said late last week some wondered if the Expo would be cancelled. “The show must go on,” he said. “We want to be a healing presence as the region recovers from all the suffering going on now.
“Here we are today. Do we think the crowd will be as large as usual? Probably not, but we have a good number coming in the gates.”