The Sunbelt Ag Expo, North America's Premier Farm Show, will be back live and in-person for its 43rd show.
Like many in the agricultural show business and many others, Expo organizers had to postpone last year's show due to COVID-19 precautions. It wasn't an easy decision, but Sunbelt Expo Executive Director Chip Blalock says immediately after the decision, all eyes and efforts began looking to the future to make this year's show the 'comeback' show.
The Sunbelt Ag Expo will be Oct. 19-22. The show grounds and the Darrell Williams Research Farm will again be packed with all things rural. Some things change each year. Some will never change. "We are excited to welcome back all our friends and guests once again to this year's show in person, and we're ready to welcome new friends, too," Blalock said.
Cooking enthusiasts can attend Georgia Grown demos at two stages – the Georgia Grown building by the main gate and the stage in the Family Living building. Chef Holly Chute will appear several times throughout the show.
Chute is executive chef for the Georgia Departments of Agriculture and Economic Development and the most visible face of the Georgia Grown Program. Before joining Georgia Grown, Chute was executive chef of the Georgia Governor's Mansion. She cooked for six Georgia Governors, foreign heads of state, former U.S. presidents, Supreme Court justices, and members of England's Royal family.
Visitors can also learn from Olivia Rader, Georgia Grown Chef and Test Kitchen Manager at Georgia Department of Agriculture, Georgia's own Two Nutty Chicks and Hannah Dasher, who was raised just outside Savannah. Dasher is a promising new country music singer and songwriter. Dasher will also have a meet-and-greet Tuesday afternoon at the Georgia Peanut Commission Building.
Large-scale agriculture is not the only focus of the Expo. The South's subtropical climate is perfect for backyard gardening enthusiasts of all kind. The Expo's garden space is maintained year-round by an army of volunteers, so visitors can enjoy a great learning experience in October during the show.
Unfortunately, in some urban locations, people are faced with what are called 'food deserts," where access to affordable, good-quality fresh food is extremely limited. The Expo garden space wants to help change that. Through partnerships and the volunteer program, the garden has been able to give back to those in need.
“This space is all about teaching people to grow food for themselves,” says Fredando Jackson, or “Farmer Fredo” as he commonly known. Jackson is the executive director of the non-profit Flint River Fresh. He has turned garden demonstration plot into a must-see for anyone interested in agriculture. This space serves as a tool to educate people on personal food production and sustainable agriculture.
The entire Sunbelt Ag Expo grounds can easily be called 'one giant classroom' each fall. Schools and students from across the region now find many programs specifically tailored to advance educational opportunities at the Expo.
Students who visit in 2021 will learn at the Flint River Fresh Sustainable Living Center and show their skills in the Sunbelt Ag Expo Youth Educational Challenges and the Ag Mechanics Competition. Student competitions will lead the day on Wednesday.
Advocacy in Action is a team event that challenges high school and collegiate teams to create a video based on a presented topic. Teams submit videos prior to the Expo. Finalists will be named and will attend the Expo to create a second video while working with an industry leader and lobbyist, all in an effort to advocate for agriculture.
The Youth Educational Challenges, sponsored by Country Financial, offer competitions in five areas, including floral design, and horticulture forestry, wildlife, animal science, and mechanics identification. Students can register teams or compete individually. Cash prizes are awarded in two divisions: Junior, grades 6-9; and Senior, grades 10-12. In each category, awards are given to the top three finishers in the Junior and Senior divisions, to the club or chapter with the best overall finish, and to the state with the best overall finish. The Sunbelt Expo event is a stand-alone competition.
The students receive a great opportunity to showcase their talents, and the ag industry also reaps the rewards.
“The Sunbelt Expo is a practice contest for other contests that they do,” Blalock says, "and a great opportunity for young teachers to learn how to set up a contest, without having the pressure of it being a regional or state contest. And it gives us an excellent opportunity to interact with the next generation of our consumers,”
In its first year, the challenges drew about 150 students. Visitors who want to participate or watch can find the Youth Challenges in the R.W Griffin Building. Expo admission for students who register for the Youth Challenge is $8. Event registration is free. Lunch for competitors is sponsored by AgriSupply and CocaCola.
The FFA Ag Mechanics competition is an individual event for middle and high schoolers in FFA, which allows students to enter their metal or wood masterpieces to be judged and then displayed during the Expo for the public to see.
Students of all ages will have the chance to experience the sights, sounds, and real-world environments of welding without the smoke, burn, and spark when they stop by the American Welding Society Careers in Welding Trailer. The 53-foot AWS trailer is where you can try your hand at virtual welding, meet professionals within the welding industry and find out how to win a $1,000 scholarship to get started on a path to a career in welding.
New Equipment and Field Demos
Visitors will be able to check out trucks and various pieces of farming equipment either from directly inside the cabs or while watching crops being harvested on the real-working Darrell Williams Research Farm, where 600 acres are dedicated to agronomic research and technologies. The farm is also the location of the popular Expo in-field demonstrations, says Cody Mitchell, the Expo farm manager.
Visitors to the field demonstrations will be the first in North America to see the new John Deere CP770 round-bale cotton picker in action. The CP770 has the new John Deere PRO16 HS Row Unit, fitted with high-speed stalk lifters and 'ultra-fast' cotton-grabbing spindles, and it makes round modules 2% larger and 5% more dense than its predecessor. Once it collects the cotton, the CP770 can wrap and eject a module in just over 30 seconds.
There will also be peanut harvesting technology to see, and on each of the three days of the show, multiple brands of hay cutters run side by side, along with tedders, balers and rakes, providing detailed comparison of how each piece of equipment performs.
But like for many farmers in the area, the 2021 growing season was a challenge, Mitchell says
"We had a wonderful planting season and had rain when we needed it, which gave use wonderful stands. But about two weeks after we planted our last cotton, which would have been the mid-June. We started getting rain, and it felt like it rained every single day," he said. "But we roll with what the weather gives us, and like we do every year, we'll have the field demo site ready to welcome our visitors."
Foraging for Quality
The Southeastern Hay Contest started growing in 2004, and so did the interest in improving Southeast hay production. The hay competition focuses on Relative Forage Quality, RFQ, a measurement of the nutritional value the hay or baleage offers animals.
The region's top hay producers and forage experts will once again bring the tradition of the annual Southeastern Hay Contest awards ceremony to the Sunbelt Ag Expo on opening day Oct. 19.
"One of the many things we missed last year was the Southeast Hay Contest awards ceremony on opening day. Even though we recognized them at a later date, it just wasn’t the same as doing it at the show. We are looking forward to seeing everyone involved, both winners and sponsors, and restarting a Sunbelt tradition,” Blalock says.
The contest is an educational partnership between 13 Southeastern land-grant universities. Over the last 17 years, the program has encouraged producers to test their hay to refine Southeastern forage production practices. The contest is coordinated by Marcelo Wallau with the University of Florida, Lisa Baxter with the University of Georgia and Leanne Dillard with Auburn University.
The mission of the hay contest is "to educate people about hay quality, to understand how to make good hay, and what influence good hay has on animal feeding, performance and supplementation costs," Wallau said.
Bill Kaven will lead the Ranch Horse and Horsemanship Demos each day at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. He is from Illinois and a former faculty member of North Central Texas College. He is with the National Snaffle Bit Association, Inc.
NSBA's mission is to define, promote and improve the quality of the show horse, to promote exhibits, events and contests in expositions and shows; to promote the training of pleasure and show horses, to promote interest in show horses among younger horsemen, and to use and encourage the use of the standard rules for holding and judging contests of the pleasure and show horse.
Sunbelt visitors can catch Analise Granger's act at 11:30 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. each day of the show. She's a professional Roman rider from Dothan, Ala. Roman riding, sometimes referred to as trick riding, is a Western style that allows a rider to stand on two horses and perform various patterns or jump through fire.
While visitors are in that corner of the Expo grounds, they can stop at the Beef Pavilion for a seminar, see a cattle handling demonstration at Priefert Arena, or visit the Georgia Mobile Dairy Classroom, one of several seminar sessions at the dairy section, F-7.
Blalock says the goal for the 43rd Sunbelt Ag Expo is the same as it has always been: For visitors to say that this year’s show is the best they've ever attended.
"After a difficult time for many, I can tell you we are blessed and ready to have this year's Sunbelt Ag Expo once again in person for our dedicated visitors and vendors," he said.
On Tuesday morning, one of the Expo's most profound traditions will once again take place: Around 9:30 a.m. the Expo grounds will pause. A prayer will be heard across every corner of it. The Star-Spangled Banner will then play. People will bow their heads and put their hands over their hearts in gratitude.