By Marty Steiner
MOULTRIE, Ga. — US Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue returned to his home state to offer brief comments at the opening day of the 42nd Sunbelt Ag Expo in Moultrie. Perdue was introduced by Chip Blalock, Executive Director of the Expo, filling in for American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall. Duvall, a third generation Georgia farmer, was absent due to family health issues.
Former Georgia Governor Perdue’s comments were spoken as one who’s life has been spent in farming. He was supported by the current Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, both with lifelong agriculture backgrounds. Kemp had served in the Georgia Senate before being appointed as Georgia’s Secretary of State by then Governor Perdue. Kemp then served two elected terms as the Secretary of State before being elected Governor last November.
Perdue’s comments were largely about the resilience of farming families and their challenge of feeding an ever-growing world population. He identified President Trump as a “New York City boy with very little direct exposure to agriculture but who really does understand the important role of agriculture!”
Perdue’s comments were delivered at the Southeastern Farmer of the Year (FOY) Luncheon. The 10 state Farmers of the Year and their families from the Expo’s featured states were each introduced and honored.
The10 farmers who are this year’s Farmers of the Year produce what may be the widest range of major crops recently seen in this competition.
Kentucky’s 2019 Farmer of the Year is Danny Cunningham. Cunningham raises dark tobacco and grain including white corn, soybeans and wheat on over 4,000 acres. Now at age 75, Cunningham has been farming for nearly 60 years. Cunningham is active in community and church in Murray, Kentucky.
With more than 1,400 calves on 1,900 acres, Tennessee Farmer of the Year Jerry Ray raises corn, soybeans, wheat, grass hay and offers open pasture near Tullahoma. At 65, Ray has been farming for 45 years following graduation from the University of Tennessee with a degree in Plant and Soil Science. He is active in a number of livestock and agricultural groups.
Alabama’s Hank Richardson and his family’s Dixie Green Farms raise poinsettias, mums, caladiums, calla lilies and various ferns in 12 acres of heated greenhouses along with 8 acres of outdoor pad space.
Mississippi’s Ted Parker produces cattle supported by nearly eight thousand acres of rye, crab and Bermuda grass. Johnny Wishon, North Carolina’s FOY produces wreaths, garlands and center-pieces raising Frazier Fir, White Pine, Spruce and Concolor Fir Christmas trees. Arkansas FOY Chris Isbell’s Zero Grade Farms raise specialty rice for both domestic and Japanese markets.
The Southeast Farmer of the Year competition is sponsored by Swisher International and this was the 30th year of the event. This was the 42nd edition of the Sunbelt Ag Expo. With over 1,200 exhibitors, 300 interactive displays and educational seminars along with numerous demonstrations and hands-on opportunity it is a challenge just to see it all in three days.
Notable are the numerous hands-on and educational opportunities. With this special emphasis on education and youth, the school bus parking lot frequently is overflowing with more than 50 buses at any one time.
The Expo is always mid-week, Tuesday through Thursday of the third week in October. The 2020 event is scheduled for Oct. 20 – 22. The Expo website, www.sunbelktexpo.com provides full information.