today is the field event that attracts the largest.
During Joe Burnside’s tenure as Expo director, the show started
new exhibit sections for beef cattle, lawn and garden implements,
and pickups and automotive vehicles, all of which broadened the
show’s appeal. All continue to be major attractions at Expo each year.
At the 1987 Expo, Kelley Manufacturing Company introduced
the industry’s first four-row peanut combine. Portable sawmills also
made their first appearance at the 1987 event, and these machines
now comprise a major exhibit space in the western section of the
The 1988 show featured a new pavilion to house beef cattle exhibits, and Auburn University and University of Georgia offered exhibits featuring scientific advancements in biotechnology.
When Joe Burnside retired in 1987, the position of Expo director was filled by Bill Farrington. Although he was director for only
one year in 1988, Farrington implemented a number of improvements. He started a fence building contest for college and university
students that was well supported for several years, expanded food
services on the Expo grounds, greatly expanded the sawmill and
forestry exhibits, oversaw the first stock dog trials at Expo, brought
in the first horse demonstrations and the first hunting and fishing
exhibits, and started a new annual event honoring young farmers
and ranchers attending the Expo.
MAJOR GROW TH PERIOD
Major growth in the number of exhibits occurred when Ed White became Expo director. He was head of the University of Georgia Rural
Development Center at Tifton when Sunbelt Expo was organized,
served as acting director of the Expo in 1988, and became permanent Expo director following the 1988 show, a position he held until
his death in 1997.
Under White, exhibit numbers increased from about 400 when he
became director to more than 1,000 at his death. He is also remembered for working with the company that became Swisher International, helping to found the Southeastern Farmer of the Year awards
1990. By 1996,
White said, the
Farmer of the
the most prestigious farmer
program in the
Cutting horse demonstrations were a new attraction during the
1989 Expo, and a new horse arena that year hosted demonstrations
from Paso Fino horses, draft horses, and mules. A new five-row cotton picker was introduced by John Deere during the 1989 show.
White was also instrumental, in 1989, in signing a long-term
lease with the city of Moultrie, which owned the Expo property. The
agreement gave exhibitors the confidence they needed to erect permanent exhibit buildings on the showgrounds.
For the first time in 1990, the show was held on a Thursday-Fri-day-Saturday schedule. But major exhibitors were disappointed, and
persuaded show managers to return to the mid-week show schedule
that has continued each year since.
A new dairy exhibit section made its debut at the 1990 show, and
two new permanent agribusiness buildings were constructed in the
middle of the show grounds to house exhibits. Virginia farmer Nelson Gardner was recognized as the first Southeastern Farmer of the
Year during the 1990 show.
The 1991 Expo was attended by a group of farmers from Argentina, who bought equipment to take back to their farms. By 1991,
the Expo had constructed three permanent buildings for agribusiness exhibits, and permanent restroom facilities were also installed
in the middle of the show grounds.
MAJOR EVEN TS, AT TRAC TIONS
Young Farmer chapters competed in the first barbeque pork cooking contest during the 1991 Expo, and cotton stalk pullers and stalk
shredders were attention-getters at the harvesting and tillage demonstrations. The 1991 Expo also welcomed television weatherman
Willard Scott, who delivered his Today Show weather reports from
the exhibit grounds.
Based on exhibit
numbers in 1992,
the Expo became
the second largest
farm show in the
U.S. One new exhibit
section that year featured ostrich, emu,
and rhea birds, while
another new exhibit
section saw the debut of antique farm tractors.
During the 1993 Expo, a Southern Living cooking school was
such a big hit that it was held twice daily in the Maule aircraft facility. A faculty member from Baylor University in Texas demonstrated an
ethanol-powered airplane, and a South Georgia farmer exhibited and
demonstrated a no-till bermudagrass sprigger he had developed on
his own farm.
One of Ed White’s most controversial moves came in 1994, the
year he retired from Georgia Extension. He and the Expo board voted
to separate the farm show from its University of Georgia origins. Relations between the University and the Expo were strained for a period, but have since been smoothed over. Today, University of Georgia
scientists continue to conduct field research at Expo, and the University continues to be one of the farm show’s prominent exhibitors.
Also during 1994, Expo officials held another lease signing ceremony with the City of Moultrie. The ceremony, as with others in the
past, was aimed at putting to rest the rumors that the Expo would
leave Spence Field for another location.
The 1994 Expo was notable for the funeral service held for the
boll weevil. The weevil eradication program that began in North Carolina had been a major success in the Southeast. It was fitting that
the Expo Spotlight State that year was North Carolina.
LARGEST U.S. FARM SHOW
Former President Jimmy Carter visited the 1996 Expo, and new exhibit sections were opened for small ruminants, cotton farming, and
small farmers. Also that year, Ed White announced that the Expo had
become the largest farm show in North America.
The 1997 Expo featured a fourth new permanent agribusiness
building, Deere introduced a new six-row cotton picker, and there
was an expanded beef pavilion.
Beef cattle herd health demonstrations became an annual feature starting in 1979. Extension veterinarian Dr. David Bedell helped
start the beef herd health demonstrations, and after he retired in the
late 1980s, Bill Patten of Fuller Supply Company stepped in as a volunteer leader of the livestock exhibits.
In 2002, the Expo beef cattle pavilion was named in honor of Patten, a long-time member of the Expo board of directors, who had
helped to establish and expand the show’s livestock displays, including dairy and horse exhibits, along with alpaca and sheep and goat
Chip Blalock, the Expo’s current director, began to manage the
show in 1997. One of his major contributions was to develop the Expo’s official slogan as North America’s Premier Farm Show®. He also
oversaw the move of the Expo staff from rented office space in Tifton
to a new permanent headquarters building on the Spence Field site
Like his predecessor, Ed White, Blalock has been a strong champion of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of
See ANNIVERSARY, Page 20