For the fourth time in Sunbelt Ag Expo’s 34-year history Alabama will be the spotlight state and state officials say the first three were great, but the fourth time around will be a spotlight to remember.

The theme for the Alabama Spotlight State is: Alabama Agriculture – Well Grounded. The idea reflects that all things related to farming and agriculture begin with a good foundation, including the men and women who care for the soil, air and water necessary to sustain all forms of life.  “Our theme focuses on the fact that Alabama agriculture is well grounded in many areas, including history, technology, diversity, stewardship and productivity,” said Alabama Farmers Federation Executive Director Paul Pinyan, who co-chairs the Alabama Spotlight State Committee with Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries John McMillan.

The concept for the Spotlight State came from Alabama, and more specifically from Mike Sprott, who was director of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System from 1975-1980. At that time, Sunbelt Ag Expo was in its infancy and Sprott was an early and staunch supporter of the event.

“Mike Sprott is a very innovative, forward-thinking person, and he had some great ideas that helped build a modern extension program in Alabama—one that reflected his innovation and creativity,” says former colleague and Auburn Dean of Agriculture, Gale Buchanan. Featuring a spotlight state at Sunbelt Ag Expo is one of his many legacies, Buchanan adds.

This year Alabama’s Spotlight Tent will feature a distinctive, modern flair aimed to pique the interest of young and old visitors alike, Pinyan says.  Visitors will not have to wait long to see the color and uniqueness of this year’s spotlight state.

A unique and colorful entrance to the tent, featuring  a giant sod replica of Alabama, grown by Beck’s Turf Farm in Macon County, Ala., will be trimmed with thousands of flowers and plants that include pansies, flowering cabbage and kale grown by Alabama’s own Bonnie Plants Farm.

Native hardwoods and shrubs grown by Beck’s Turf Farm will round out the living display. The world-famous Catfish Car and the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association Beef Trailer will greet visitors as they approach the tent entrance.

Large flat-screen televisions will act as revolving billboards in the tent and will feature stunning photos and agricultural scenes from throughout Alabama along with interesting educational facts about every segment of agriculture in the state.

“A section in the tent that is sure to be popular is the green screen photography display that allows visitors to have their photo taken with a variety of interesting and whimsical backgrounds,” Pinyan says. “Photos will be emailed to participants and posted on social media sites that day to allow visitors to share their photo with friends and invite more people to our tent to learn about Alabama, he adds”

A dirt track in the tent will give visitors the chance to drive a new John Deere tractor, albeit a remote control toy replica tractor. The toy tractors, provided by SunSouth, will have modern implements and are exact replicas of their giant counterparts.”

In addition to other informational displays around the tent, the Alabama Grocers Association will display food items manufactured in the state. Those include famous brands such as Alaga Syrup, Milo’s Famous Tea, Golden Flake, Conecuh Sausage, Sister Schubert’s Homemade Rolls, Red Diamond, Wickles Pickles and more.

“The Grocers Association will have coupons and samples of some of the best-tasting food in America that’s made right here in Alabama,” Pinyan notes.

Entertainment in the spotlight tent is sponsored by First South Farm Credit and will feature professional rodeo clown and entertainer Trent McFarland of Hope Hull, Ala. His act, which will be performed several times throughout the day, features fancy trick roping along with an in-your-face style of comedy. He will also stroll around the show grounds between performances to encourage visitors to come to the spotlight tent.

Alabama Spotlight State sponsors and volunteers include the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, Alabama Farmers Cooperative, Alabama Farmers Federation, Bonnie Plants, Beck’s Turf Farm, First South Farm Credit, Alabama Agribusiness Council, Alabama Cattlemen’s Association, Alabama Poultry & Egg Association, PolorCool and SunSouth John Deere.

Other committee members and contributors include the Alabama Catfish Producers, Alabama Grocers Association, Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Alabama Peanut Producers Association, Alabama Forestry Association, Alabama Farmers Market Authority, Auburn University and Alabama Agricultural Statistics Service.

“While Alabama was known as the Cotton State since the mid 1860s, Alabama agriculture has become incredibly diversified,” says Commissioner McMillan.

The state ranks 13th nationally in livestock production and produces more than 11 percent of total poultry production in the country. The state is historically a leader in cotton production and remains as one of the top peanut producing states in the country, he notes.

“Agriculture is a $5 billion industry in Alabama, and we’re excited about introducing all those who attend the Sunbelt Ag Expo to what our state has to offer.  I think they’ll find that our claim of Alabama agriculture being well grounded, is more than a slogan, it’s real,” Pinion concludes.