Ag News

45th Sunbelt Expo celebrates Southeastern Ag, highlights road & mental safety

by Jennifer Whittaker & Jay Stone

Posted on Oct 25, 2023 at 16:23 PM

Sunbelt Ag Expo held its 45th show this year Oct. 17-19, and Mother Nature blessed the event with terrific weather: crisp fall mornings followed by sunny days with high temperatures only in the 70s.

Georgia Farm Bureau, which is a 45-year exhibitor, greeted Expo guests at the Georgia Ag Building as they streamed through the main gate under the water tower and behind the flight tower. GFB staff talked with attendees about the many activities the organization does to promote agriculture to consumers and students and how GFB represents farmers and rural communities in Atlanta and D.C.

GFB’s exhibit also gave attendees the chance to write a thank-you note to a Georgia farmer for growing food to feed us, cotton to make our clothes, and timber for our homes. These notes will be displayed at the GFB convention in December for Georgia farmers from across the state to see.

The Georgia Ag Experience mobile classroom, coordinated by the Georgia Foundation for Agriculture, was on display near the Georgia Ag Building. Attendees had the chance to learn about Georgia’s top economic sector through interactive computer games that give participants the chance to raise broilers in a modern poultry house and drive tractors through peanut and cotton fields.

Arkansas farmer Steve Cobb was named the 2024 Sunbelt Ag Expo Southeastern farmer of the Year during the Willie B. Withers Expo Lunch. Cobb Farms is a partnership enterprise that began over 50 years ago. Today, on 4,500 acres (2,500 rented and 2,000 owned), it grows row crops, produce and show pigs. Three entities make up the partnership: 1) Steve Cobb & Family is a leading show-pig operation that produces 1,000 plus show pigs a year as well as breeding stock for club pig production; 2) Cane Island Farms oversee the production of corn, cotton, and peanuts; 3) The Cane Island Produce branch grows vegetables, specializing in year-round greenhouse tomatoes.

As the overall winner, Cobb and his wife, Terri, won a $15,000 cash prize, the use of a Massey Ferguson tractor for a year or 250 hours (whichever comes first), a jacket from the Sunbelt Ag Expo, a Hays Smoker/Grill from Hays LTI, and a Henry Repeating Arms American Farmer Tribute Edition rifle from Reinke Irrigation.

Colquitt County Farm Bureau members Bart and Paula Davis represented Georgia in the 2023 Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year contest. The Davis family grows cotton and peanuts and raise purebred and F1 Angus & Hereford cattle. As the Georgia winners, the Davises received a $2,500 cash award and an expense-paid trip to the Sunbelt Expo from the contest sponsors. A vest from the Sunbelt Ag Expo was given to each state winner and nominator. The Moultrie Colquitt Co. Chamber of Commerce gave each state winner a local keepsake. Additionally, Massey Ferguson North America provided each state winner with a gift package. 

Sponsors of the 2023 Farmer of the Year program were: Massey Ferguson, Harper Family Holdings, the Alabama Farmers Federation, Arkansas Farm Bureau, Florida Farm Bureau, Georgia Farm Bureau, Kentucky Farm Bureau, Mississippi Farm Bureau, North Carolina Farm Bureau, South Carolina Farm Bureau, Tennessee Farm Bureau, Virginia Farm Bureau, Southeast Farm Press/Farm Progress, Hays LTI and Reinke. These new sponsors picked up the mantle from Swisher Sweets, which previously sponsored the award for 32 years. Anyone interested in supporting the Expo Farmer of the Year Award may visit Donations are tax deductible.

A total of $1,284,000 in cash awards and other honors have been awarded to 286 Southeastern farmers since the award was initiated in 1990.

Beef 101

Beef producers attending Expo had the chance to attend Top Hand demos each day at the Priefert Arena on the west side of the Beef Pavilion. These demos highlighted the UGA Extension Top Hand Stockmanship/Stewardship Contest for 9th-12th grade students while also hearing tips for working cattle. Visit  to learn more about the contest that teaches students about Beef Quality Assurance best practices for raising cattle.

While emceeing a session on Oct. 17, Jason King with Priefert’s Ranch Equipment encouraged cattle producers to invest in a set of scales to weigh cattle while giving them vaccines and tagging them.

“Weighing cattle is one of the most important things you can do. At the end of the day, we’re trying to grow pounds in calves,” King said. “By weighing your calves when you wean them as you work them and then again near sell time, you can keep up with what type of calf your Mama cows are producing. If you aren’t weighing your cows all you’re doing is guessing at how much your calves weigh.”

UGA Extension Beef Specialist Jason Duggin shared tips for implementing Beef Quality Assurance best practices when working cattle.

Duggin encouraged producers to use a clean needle on each cow when giving vaccines or at the least to use the same needle on no more than 10 cattle.

“The best money you can make is to throw away a 15-cent needle. You need a clean needle with every cow to avoid the risk of infection that can lead to abscesses.  At least change needles after every 10 head of cattle at the very least. Throwing away that 15 to 20 cent needle will make you money."

During other daily sessions at the Priefert Arena, cattle experts discussed the state of the cattle industry, Weaver Livestock gave tips on “Daily Care for Cattle Show Hair,” and experienced livestock exhibitors gave fitting demos.

Sweet Grown Alabama

Alabama was the 2023 Expo Spotlight State. Expo guests who visited the Spotlight State Building were able to take a virtual road trip through Alabama and learn about the state’s major commodities and parts of the state where they are grown.

You couldn’t help but hum the words "Sweet Grown A-la-bam-a" to a familiar tune with a similar name as you left the building. The slogan is the Alabama Department of Agriculture’s theme for promoting Alabama agriculture.

The exhibit highlighted Alabama’s peanut & cotton crops grown in the state’s Wiregrass region; its pecan crop grown in Central Alabama; poultry grown in East Alabama; agritourism found in the north part of the state; the corn & soybean crops grown in Northwest Alabama; the peaches & strawberries grown in Central Alabama; timber grown in Southwest Alabama; catfish grown in Southern Alabama from the east to west borders and cattle raised across the state but predominantly in western Alabama.

Alabama ag facts the exhibit highlighted included: Alabama ranks 2nd in the U.S. (behind Georgia) for production of broilers (chickens grown for meat). Alabama ranks 2nd in the U.S. for catfish production. Alabama ranks 3rd in the contiguous U.S. for timber acreage.

Farmers’ mental health

On. Oct. 18, the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) Commissioner Kevin Tanner, Georgia Department of Agriculture Commissioner Tyler Harper, and Dr. Laura Perry-Johnson, Associate Dean for Extension at the University of Georgia, launched a statewide collaboration to address farm workers' mental health. These state leaders held Georgia’s first listening forum with notable members of Georgia’s farm and faith communities followed by a press conference announcing this multi-agency effort at the Sunbelt Ag Expo in Moultrie.

“Our commitment to addressing farmer mental health issues is unwavering. We believe in the power of collaboration and the importance of reducing stigma while creating resources that truly support our farming communities,” said Tanner. “This joint effort will sow the seeds of hope, resilience, and recovery, nurturing the mental well-being of those who sustain our agricultural heritage and guide our spiritual journeys.”

The DBHDD, Georgia Dept. of Agriculture, and University of Georgia Cooperative Extension have invested a total of $5.26 million for programming tailored to reaching agriculture communities since the COVID-19 pandemic. Georgia Farm Bureau and the Georgia Foundation for Agriculture will also provide their resources during this statewide collaboration to provide mentorship, training and support grassroots efforts led by county Farm Bureaus..

DBHDD has dedicated nearly $2 million to address the growing mental health crisis in rural Georgia. Through its crisis network initiatives, $317,000 of this funding will support educating faith leaders who often serve as a primary resource to farmers experiencing a mental health crisis. Over the last four years, more than $1.2 million has been spent on partnerships with faith leaders to address opioid and substance use disorders and overdoses. Through a statewide marketing campaign, the Department has allocated $450,000 to educate rural communities, farmers, and faith leaders about the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

The Georgia Department of Agriculture has made a substantial investment of $500,000 in mental health resources and awareness using a USDA NIFA Georgia Healthy Farmer Mindset Grant. Over the past five years, this funding has been dedicated to various critical initiatives, including training, outreach, education, and collaboration with partner agencies. Training efforts encompass staff and public outreach, veteran training, as well as legal and financial training. The grant funding has also supported events such as Mental Health Day at the Capitol, Mental Health Awareness Month, and World Mental Health Day. Under Commissioner Harper’s leadership, the Department has also amped up efforts to streamline existing state resources for farm workers’ mental health.

University of Georgia Cooperative Extension also recognized an increased need for assistance in farming and rural communities, notably after Hurricanes Irma and Michael in 2018, leading to an expansion on educational opportunities focused on farmer stress. The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated stress, prompting UGA Extension to educate and expand personnel in the field and invest more than $460,000 in this effort, along with $200,000 in additional resources. UGA Extension formed a Behavioral Health Team with a diverse range of experts, securing nearly $2.2 million in grant funds for behavioral health and rural stress work since 2020. Over the past decade, UGA Extension has received more than $27 million in grant funds to support general health and wellness. UGA’s “Rural Georgia: Growing Stronger” program also offers workshops, online courses, and a holistic approach to improving mental health outcomes for farmers and their families.

To address the pressing issues of farmer mental health and well-being, several listening forums will be held across the state to foster understanding, compassion, and support within Georgia’s farming and faith communities. The forums are designed to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health, raise awareness about the unique challenges faced by these communities, and collaboratively build resources tailored to their specific needs, ensuring that no farmer ever feels alone in their struggles.

A 2022 study conducted by the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center at Mercer University, in collaboration with the Georgia Foundation for Agriculture, highlights the significant mental health challenges farmers face.

This survey of 1,651 respondents revealed that a staggering 96 percent of farmers experience moderate to high levels of stress. Almost half of the respondents reported feeling sad or depressed, with 39 percent feeling hopeless.

The survey showed 29 percent of farmers think of dying by suicide at least once per month, and 42 percent of all farmers thought about dying by suicide at least once in the past 12 months. Most farmers reported not being able to access a psychologist (telephone, online or in-person). Approximately 60 percent of farmers do not have access to basic medical care.

Safety on the roads

During an Oct. 18 press conference at Expo, the Governor's Office of Highway Safety (GOHS) announced it is once again partnering with the Georgia Department of Agriculture to remind drivers to watch for and safely pass farm equipment when traveling in rural areas. The combined effort is titled “Yield Behind the Wheel.”

With the fall harvest in full swing, Georgia farmers are on the road moving equipment from field to field and transporting their crops to buying points. GOHS also reminded drivers on the importance of driving the speed limit, wearing seat belts, and staying focused on the road to help prevent crashes in rural areas.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 43% of the nation's traffic fatalities happened in rural areas in the United States in 2020, even though this area accounts for 19% of the country's population according to the U.S. Census Bureau and less than a third of the total miles traveled in the nation. 

According to NHTSA's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), 52% of those who died in rural passenger vehicle crashes in 2020 were not wearing seat belts, compared to 49% of people killed in urban passenger vehicle crashes in the U.S. in 2020. 

According to the Georgia Department of Transportation, ten people have been killed in 363 crashes involving farm and construction vehicles in the state over a five-year period from 2017-2021. The data shows that 40 percent of these crashes in Georgia involved a suspected or confirmed distracted driver. 

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