BY JOHN LEIDNER
SUNBELT AGRICULTURAL Exposition, the agricultural technology
extravaganza that has been at the
forefront of introducing new farming practices to new generations
of American farmers and agriculturists, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
The first Expo was held in 1978,
but the history of the event actually began years earlier, starting in 1964 with the first Dealer Day that
was held on the campus of Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College at
Tifton, Ga. The Dealer Days were intended for local farm equipment
dealers to show off their new machinery, while giving ABAC students
an opportunity to meet with potential employers.
The primary founder of the Sunbelt Expo was the late Joe Burnside, who worked for University of Georgia Extension as a coordinator of agriculture and forestry. His original job description didn’t include starting a major farm equipment show
— that’s something he did on his own.
Although he had a difficult job in persuading the agricultural industry and University of
Georgia administrators to support his idea for
a large outdoor regional farm show, the event
became successful beyond all expectations.
The first Expo in 1978 featured 410 exhibits and attracted an estimated crowd of
FIELD DAY ESTABLISHED
In 1979, Burnside announced that the first
summer row crops field day would be held.
He called it a “mini-Expo” because it offered
a preview of the crops that would be har-
vested during the mid-October show. It has
since become an annual event that attracts
hundreds of visitors to view the progress of
crops in Expo fields.
Some of the entertainment that
highlighted the 1979 Sunbelt Expo
included hot air balloon rides pro-
vided by Diamond Shamrock and
racing pigs in the Heinhold exhibit.
The 1980 Expo attracted an esti-
mated crowd of 200,000, That year,
Expo joined the North American
Farm Show Council, which included
the largest farm shows in the U.S.
Home economists in the Con-
sumer and Family Living exhibit sec-
tion introduced showgoers to the new wonders of microwave cooking
at the 1980 show, which also featured the addition of 20 new shuttle
wagons to transport visitors to harvesting and tillage demonstrations in
the fields. The shuttle wagons saved individual visitors about two miles
of walking. At the 1980 show, comedian Jerry Clower entertained huge
crowds at the International Harvester exhibit.
For the 1981 show, Florida was designated as the Expo’s first Spot-
light State. An international flavor was added to the show that year with
nine new exhibits from Canada. A new innova-
tion, cotton module builders, were demonstrat-
ed for the first time during the 1981 Expo.
Traffic congestion was greatly eased for
the 1982 Expo after the highway from Moultrie was widened to four lanes. A new special
exhibit section during introduced farmers to
wide variety of information available from
desktop computers that were just coming
HAY DEMOS MOST POPULAR
The first pickup and automotive exhibit section was started during the 1985 Expo. That
same year, the University of Georgia celebrated the 200th anniversary of its founding with
a big birthday cake.
By 1985, hay harvesting had become the
Expo’s most popular field demonstration, and
Sunbelt Expo 2017: Celebrating
40 years of agricultural excellence
Ed White, left, Expo Executive Director 1987-1997, and
Farm Manager Darrell Williams, 1987-2009, were key
in developing the Expo and the Expo Research Farm into
what it is today. The farm is named in honor of Darrell