By MARTY STEINER
MOULTRIE, Ga. — Colquitt County, Georgia is generally regarded as the most diverse agricultural county east of the Mississippi. It is natural for a major agricultural exposition to have begun there, and to continue to grow.
The Sunbelt Agricultural Expo began in 1978 on the site of an old World War II Army Air Force training base, Spence Field. This October three-day event now includes more than 1,200 commercial vendors and educational exhibitors spread across 100 acres, and sees more than 200,000 visitors.
In 1987, the expo began a Field Day to tour and present findings of research on the major row crops of the Southeast. There has almost always been a working research farm from the beginnings of the Sunbelt Expo, but a formal tour program didn’t begin until under the first farm manager, Darrell Williams. The farm would later be named for Williams upon his death in 2009.
Now in his second year, the farm is managed by Michael Chafin. This year, more than 400 participants boarded Kubota tractor-drawn trams to tour the 600-acre research farm. There were 30 stops during the four-hour tour, with presenters at each stop making short comments and offering informational materials.
Attendees were able to examine actual results of new and improved varieties in an actual commercial-scale environment. Crops include cotton, corn, soybeans, peanuts, hay and even sesame. These same fields will become equipment demonstration and test drive areas at the Expo in October.
Technology underlies almost every presentation. Seed varieties, chemical agents and, of course, equipment all reflect some form of technology.
Water management continues to dominate attention there. Last year “drought” was the word, but after record-setting, almost daily torrential rains this year, the trams struggled through gravel-filled areas with some fields displaying standing water.
Various chemical development companies addressed moisture-related fungi and other crop moisture threats. The cool, wet spring had delayed planting of some crops, though.
Presenters included universities and corporations. A number of universities maintain year-round facilities at the Expo site, as do trade associations and various governmental agencies. Among the universities are the University of Georgia and the University of Florida.
Marcus Evans, director of Field Services and Industry Information for the Georgia Peanut Commission, was one of the attendees. He owns and operates multiple southern Georgia farms and produces a number of commodity crops. With 26 years on the commission, he has attended almost every Field Day.
He observed, “We’ve had peanut trials and tests every year and even now, have a dedicated, full-time Peanut Commission building on-site at the research farm.”
The importance of this annual Field Day was underlined by the presence of the Georgia State commissioner of agriculture, Gary Black, an assistant to U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), as well as a number of state legislators and leaders from the state’s peanut and cotton commissions.
Field Day is just an introduction to the 36th annual Sunbelt Ag Expo, which will take place Oct. 15-17. To learn more, visit http://sunbeltexpo.com