The Sunbelt Agricultural Expo opened its doors Tuesday, with agricultural experts, farmers, state and local leaders, and University of Georgia President Jere W. Morehead in attendance.
Much of the talk during the expo and Morehead’s visit focused on the devastation wrought by Hurricane Michael, which leveled buildings and destroyed untold acres of crops—including peanuts, pecans and vegetables—across much of Georgia’s most fertile farmland.
Morehead spoke at length with attendees about the effects of the storm and what could be done to ease the burden on the state’s farmers, some of whom have lost everything.
“I visited this area only a few weeks ago on my annual farm tour and talked with farmers who were eagerly anticipating peak harvests of pecans, peanuts and other crops. Now many farms have been wiped out and yields have been substantially impacted due to the hurricane,” said Morehead. “I want South Georgia’s farmers to know that the University of Georgia stands with them and is committed to supporting their recovery from this devastating storm.”
Early estimates place agriculture and timber losses in excess of $1 billion, and that number could increase significantly as more information becomes available.
Extension agents from UGA are working with individual farmers across the state to assess crop and equipment damage, and Extension facilities are being used as staging grounds for utility companies working to restore power.
UGA also is extending the early admissions application deadline to Oct. 22 for high school students in areas hit hardest by the storm, including Southwest Georgia and parts of the Florida Panhandle.
Representatives from UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences participate in the Expo every year, but this year many Extension officials remained in their counties helping Georgia residents recover.
Despite smaller numbers than usual, in the UGA building at the expo, some students, faculty and staff greeted visitors who wanted to learn more about the land-grant mission of Georgia’s flagship university. Student ambassadors talked about why they love the college and the world-class education they are receiving. Faculty and staff discussed the college’s research and Extension programs.
“UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences plays a significant role in Georgia’s agricultural sector being the No. 1 industry in the state. We do so by educating the future agricultural leaders in our academic programs, conducting world-renowned research that impacts different commodities that comprise the diverse ag industry of Georgia and through our Extension programs, which serve as a bridge for specialists to bring the research information to farmers,” CAES Dean Sam Pardue said. “When you come to an event like the Sunbelt Ag Expo, you’re introduced to all three of these different components that comprise a great college like CAES.”
Morehead’s visit included a tour of the CAES building, a meeting with key agricultural leaders in Georgia and a conversation with CAES student ambassadors. Morehead has visited the three-day event every year since becoming the university’s president in 2013.
He also was an invited guest at the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year Luncheon. This year’s winner was Kevin Yon from South Carolina.
More than 1,200 exhibitors are represented at this year’s Expo event, which is held on a 100-acre exhibit area. During the event, Chip Blalock, executive director of the Sunbelt Ag Expo, invited attendees to visit the adjacent 600-acre working farm and see UGA research on cotton, peanuts and forages.
“The work that we do with the UGA CAES researchers is essential to our success,” Blalock said. “The information that we gain from the research plots assists the farmers in the region with implementing the latest technology on their operation to enhance their economic and environmental sustainability.”