BY JOHN LEIDNER
THE WORKING FARM at Sunbelt Expo, with its in-the-field harvesting and tillage demonstrations, is what sets the yearly event apart
from most agricultural trade shows. A major component of the farm
is the agricultural research that has taken place for the past 40 years.
In 1978, Expo’s first year, the major concern was whether or
not the land would actually support crop production. It was poorly
drained, and the farm fields were compacted from heavy machinery
used during the construction of Spence Field runways.
Extension cotton irrigation recommendations were based on extensive studies conducted during the early years of the Expo farm.
Conservation tillage was a foreign concept to almost all farmers
in the Southeast when the show started in 1978. But during that first
year, no-till soybeans were among the crops planted in Expo small
plots. In the years since, conservation tillage has become widely accepted as a production practice and as method to prevent soil erosion.
World-renowned research by the University of Georgia College of
Agricultural and Environmental Sciences scientists is featured at the
Expo annual field day. More than 600 acres of agricultural research
by UGA commodity teams, as well as industry scientists, are on display during the Expo field day at the Darrell Williams Research Farm
(named after the late long-time farm manager who died in 2009).
This year, the Expo farm is growing 90 acres of grass hay, 163.44
acres of peanuts, 90.02 acres of corn, 15. 24 acres of soybeans, and
197.81 acres of cotton.
The working experimental farm has contributed greatly to the
advancement of agriculture in the region. For instance, 4-row cotton pickers were first introduced at Expo, as were 4-row and self-propelled peanut combines. The Expo farm was the site where the cotton irrigation scheduling method was first developed and perfected
through years of practice. In more recent years, Expo has introduced
farmers to new precision farming technologies such as auto-steer
and variable rate application of crop inputs.
Perennial peanuts, a promising high quality forage crop, debuted
at the 1988 Expo. The perennial peanut stand lasted for many years,
peaking 1996 when the stand was considered among the best in the
state of Georgia, with yields of 4 tons per acre.
EXPO VEGGIE GARDEN
During the early years of Expo, University of Georgia Extension Horticulturist Jim Barber planted a gigantic vegetable garden, with 20 or
more crops representing all vegetables commercially grown in south
Georgia. He timed plantings so that vegetables would produce ripe
fruit during the mid-October show. (One of his biggest challenges
was preventing visitors from picking the vegetables and taking them
home to eat!) Barber grew the vegetables with and without plastic
mulch, and with and without soil fumigation. He retired after the
1985 Expo, and the farm’s garden was never the same after that.
Cotton was a declining crop in Georgia and the Southeast during the 1960s and early 1970s, mainly due to damage from the boll
weevil and other pests — and low prices.
When Expo began, center pivot irrigation was just entering the
mainstream of farming technology in the Southeast. Former University of Georgia Extension Agricultural Engineer Gene Seigler used
the Expo farm and its center pivot irrigation, to develop Extension
recommendations for when to irrigate cotton.
In doing so, he helped bring about the resurgence of cotton farming in Georgia and the Southeast, and was also able to produce Expo
cotton yields in excess of 2 bales per acre, thanks largely to frequent
irrigation. Seigler conducted a large number of cotton studies at Expo,
including skip row spacing, 30-inch row spacing, and stripper harvesting. One year, he planted cotton in circular rows; another time, he grew
okra-leaf cotton varieties and purple-leaf cotton varieties.
Seigler’s work on cotton at Expo coincided with the boll weevil
eradication program. With the elimination of that destructive and
costly pest, cotton has been able to expand in the Southeast and
again become a major crop.
CULPEPPER’S WEED RESEARCH
If anyone has inherited Gene Seigler’s mantle as the agricultural
scientist who makes the most extensive use of the Expo farm, it is
University of Georgia Weed Scientist Stanley Culpepper, who has
been conducting studies here for the past 17 years. He says he’s most
appreciative that Expo makes available 22 acres for his weed control
studies. “By having access to this farm, I’m able to do four times the
amount of research I would be able to do otherwise,” he says.
Culpepper says the site has a naturally large weed population, and.
“I can do both small plot research and large plot research here.” Available land to conduct such studies is limited at state experiment station
farms. “It’s great that I can conduct a study on a 12 acre plot, and verify
information before recommending a practice to growers,” he says.
When Culpepper started his studies at the Expo farm, Roundup
Ready was the newest technology that needed to be tested before
it became available for general farm use. Within a few short years,
Roundup Ready technology became the standard for weed control
in major row crops. This was before Palmer amaranth (pigweed) developed resistance to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup.
Culpepper’s studies have helped shape recommendations for dealing with herbicide-resistant pigweeds.
In recent years, his Expo farm research has focused on auxin herbicides, such as 2,4-D and dicamba, and especially how these materials fit into weed control programs for cotton and soybean varieties
genetically engineered to tolerate those chemicals. He has also been
studying particle drift and volatility. In fact, all current University of
Georgia Extension recommendations regarding herbicide volatility
and particle drift are based on studies Culpepper has conducted at
the Expo farm.
He says he has worked with great farm managers at Expo, start-
Expo Farm helps shape 40 years of farming progress