October 16, 2023
At a Glance
- A big draw will be the drone demonstrations offered by manufacturers and research trials led by UGA's precision ag team.
- The daily antique tractor parade has been a popular traditional event.
- The regional Farmer of the Year is chosen from 10 state farmers of the year.
The long lines at the Sunbelt Ag Expo that marked the dealers hawking GPS systems in the 1990s will morph this year into large crowds craning their heads to see drones dedicated to crop management.
“Over the years our exhibitors provide us with the latest technology, and we help them showcase that while they’re at the show,” said Chip Blalock, executive director of the Expo.
Agriculture is in high-speed action on the technology highway at North America’s Premier Farm Show. With 1,200 exhibitors, visitors to the 100 acres of show grounds and 530-acre research farm will have to move fast to see everything.
“You can visit all the static exhibits and also see how everything performs in the field,” Blalock said. He noted that GPS drew crowds in the 1990s and RTK systems for tractors garnered attention the following decade. “I’m looking forward to the day we have an autonomous tractor in the field,” Blalock said.
“It’s been really fascinating to see how farmers have embraced new technology,” Blalock said. “It’s all about efficiency, about how we can take care of business and the land at the same time. Economic and environmental sustainability go hand in hand.”
As the sun rises on opening day of the 45th Expo, one of the biggest draws for farmers likely will be the drone demonstrations offered by manufacturers and the drone application research trials led by the University of Georgia’s precision ag team. Though UGA started working with drones on the Darrell Williams Research Farm at the Expo in the first decade of this century, the opportunity to use the drones to apply crop protection treatments is what farmers and ag businesses now find attractive.
“It’s been really cool to watch the drone research evolve over the last nine years,” Blalock said.
Usefulness is what changed the market opportunity.
“What is the value in drones that can take pretty pictures?” said Simer Virk, UGA Extension precision ag specialist. “Once they see the value that something can bring to their farm, they’re interested in it.”
Using drones to apply insecticide to field corners or herbicide around power lines meets a previously unmet challenge, Virk said. He’s hearing from a lot of farmers.
“As people have found what works for them on their farms, it has brought more interest in using this technology on their farms,” Virk said. “They want to know what’s out there that can help them do their jobs better. Every grower has given an example of somewhere on their farm that they could use this technology. Everybody sees where this can be used.”
The Sunbelt Ag Expo is also a good place to experience good fellowship and food, with multiple locations and many menus to choose from. Credit: Sunbelt Ag Expo
Drones that carry tanks filled with crop protection materials are new, but they’re only complementary to traditional application tools.
“Drones are not here to replace any of the other application methods we have,” Virk said. “They are another tool.”
As with every other year, farmers also will find traditional application equipment on the Expo grounds and on the research farm.
“We’re still blessed. For the big fields, that ground or aerial applicator still are the ways to go,” Blalock said. “For specialty crops, for some of those small fields, those drones are a good opportunity.”
What Sunbelt Expo visitors will not find this year – for the first time – is the stock dog trials.
“As Yogi Berra said, ‘The future ain’t what it used to be,’ Blalock quipped.
Antique tractors get double billing
Where the stock dog trials once ruled the day on a field between the Expo grounds and the research farm, an antique tractor pull certainly will draw crowds. The daily antique tractor parade has been a popular traditional event.
The antique tractor pull is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day. The parade will run at 2 p.m., also each day.
“It’s important that the parade on Tuesday is at 2 o’clock so the (Sunbelt Expo Southeastern) Farmer of the Year family can take the ride,” Blalock said.
The regional Farmer of the Year is chosen from 10 state farmers of the year. The winner is announced at the Willie B. Withers Sunbelt Ag Expo Luncheon on Tuesday.
Contests, competitions and giveaways
The Southeastern Farmer of the Year also is called on to judge the Pork Cook-Off, held in partnership with the Georgia Young Farmers Association (GYFA).
The Farmer of the Year isn’t the only visitor who stays busy. Everybody who attends the Sunbelt Expo finds plenty to see and do. Trying to experience everything would take every minute of every opening hour in the three-day show. With the exhibitors divided into livestock, family living, outdoors and such, visitors can choose their highest priority areas. The social schedule also offers a few highlights, including not only the antique tractor events but also:
The state Commissioners of Agriculture competing in a milking contest on Tuesday. Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Tyler Harper and Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture Rick Pate were confirmed milkers at press time. The milking contest continues Wednesday with high school students taking up the challenge.
Livestock exhibitors will take the stools on Thursday.
“I have a feeling when it gets down to it, it’s going to be some pretty good bragging rights for the winners,” Blalock said.
Of course, the Spotlight State has bragging rights in their chosen year at the show. For 2023, Alabama takes the pedestal. Sweet Grown Alabama pulls visitors into a wonderland with a road-trip theme, a wealth of educational treats, and a truckload of freebies.
Ice cream samples will be served daily at 3 p.m. at the strawberry and peaches exhibit.
Daily interactive horticulture workshops are on tap at 2 p.m.
Alabama food bloggers plan to serve up special treats during cooking demonstrations on Tuesday and Wednesday at 11 a.m.
Longleaf pine seedlings will be given away at the forestry exhibit on Tuesday at 3 p.m.
Visitors also can enter a sweepstakes to win a protein pack of meat raised by an Alabama farmer. The prize will be delivered to the winner’s home later in the fall.
Before riding into the sunset, visitors can hop on one or three test tracks offered by ATV manufacturers on the edge of the exhibit grounds near the headquarters building.
With so much to do, Expo leadership can only say one thing to visitors who want to see it all: good luck.
Read more about:Sunbelt Ag Expo
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