The Sunbelt Ag Expo prides itself on the community it has built within and outside of Moultrie. The Expo has a culture of learning opportunities, friendly competition, and fellowship, impacting its visitors.
Special events such as the Southeast Q-Fest, Southeast Hay Contest, and Farmer of the Year program get people excited for the Expo.
The Sunbelt Ag Expo began the Pork Cook-Off in 1991 as a partnership with the Georgia Young Farmers Association (GYFA). Soon the cook-off became the Southeast Q-Fest that GYFA members looked forward to each year.
Martin Bius, executive secretary of the GYFA, said a great deal of pride goes into the contest. The contestants even set up display areas to be judged. These displays are the “Best in Q-Fest.”
“Each year, awards are given for the best Q-Fest teams and most talented horseshoe pitching teams,” Bius said. “Each year is packed full of fun and fellowship among the cooking teams.”
The Expo provides the uncooked Boston butts, and the GYFA teams cook and prepare each butt. The meat from the contest is used for the Ag Appreciation Dinner at the Expo. The teams begin cooking early in the morning and do not finish until after lunchtime on Wednesday.
“The GYFA looks forward to many more years of cooking at the Expo,” Bius said.
Farmers also have the opportunity to test their own products and enter them into a contest. The Southeast Hay Contest began in 2006 as an effort to reach other cooperative extensions from the University of Georgia, University of Florida, Auburn, and Clemson.
Since then, the Hay Contest has reached all 13 of the southeastern states as north as Virginia and Kentucky to as west as Texas and Oklahoma. The contest aims to allow producers to test their hay and baleage and demonstrate the economic importance of forage testing for a livestock operation.
Dr. Lisa Baxter, UGA Extension forage specialist, said the hay contest is only possible because of the support of sponsors and the dedication of local extension agents to help collect and submit the forage samples to the lab.
“I work with Dr. Marcelo Wallau (UF) and Leanne Dillard (Auburn) on the Southeast Hay Contest Executive Committee to manage the day-to-day operation of the contest and communicate directly with sponsors, the UGA FEW lab, and the Expo,” Baxter said. “We have a larger committee that includes an Extension agent from each state to decide on bigger changes.”
The submissions of samples have steadily increased over time. In the past two years, the contest has average around 375 samples. Producers can enter their hay in seven categories of hay and baleage. The top three entries in each category receive a cash prize, and the overall winner receives a choice of using a new Massey Ferguson DM Series disc mower or RK Series rotary rake for the next hay season plus $1000 cash.
For the past 31 years Swisher International has partnered with the Sunbelt Ag Expo to recognize a Farmer of the Year. Now, it is one of the most prestigious honors in the nation.
Ten states participate in the program: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. A winner is chosen from each state and out of those winners is chosen as an overall winner. Over 276 farm families have received the title Farmer of the Year and represent the best of agriculture.
Since its partnership, Swisher has donated over seven million dollars to the Farmer of the Year program. Ron Carroll, vice president of marketing at Swisher, said the Farmer of the Year program is a very special event and encourages growth.
“We are extremely proud to be a part of such a prestigious award program recognizing the agricultural industry and the outstanding people that make it what it is,” Carroll said. “Our hope is that this program continues to acknowledge those values, hard work, trials, and successes of the American Farmer.”
Each state winner of the program receives $2,500 cash and an expense-paid trip to the Exo along with a $500 gift certificate from Southern States Cooperative. Additionally, Syngenta donates $500 to each state winner’s charity of choice.
The overall winner receives an additional $15,000 from Swisher and the use of a Massey Ferguson tractor for a year or up to 250 hours, along with additional awards.
“It is humbling to have the opportunity to recognize these individuals, as they do not by nature seek the approval or recognition they so richly deserve,” Carroll said.
The Expo would not be what it is today without the community that it creates. For more information on the different contests, visit www.sunbeltexpo.com.