ATHENS, Ga. — Following the cancellation of 2020’s event, nearly 90,000 attendees were excited to return to Spence Field for the 2021 Sunbelt Agricultural Expo where they tested out agriculture’s newest technologies, learned about exciting research developments, and interacted with agricultural professionals from across the United States.
To celebrate the 42nd annual ag expo, a group of UGA administrators traveled south to Moultrie, Georgia, to see firsthand the impact that the University of Georgia has on Georgia’s largest industry: agriculture.
Joining the UGA delegation were Sen. Robert Dickey of Georgia Senate District 140, Rep. Terry England of Georgia District 116 and Rep. Larry Walker of Georgia District 20.
Integrative precision agriculture takes center stage
First, the group toured the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences building, where they had the opportunity to see what’s new in CAES research, teaching and Extension. This year, integrative precision agriculture took center stage. Integrative precision agriculture seeks to harness the power of technology and big data to solve problems of efficiency and sustainability at the intersection of agriculture and the environment.
With object recognition software, precision irrigation systems and drone-enabled weed mapping, the agricultural and environmental sectors are turning to new innovations to streamline processes and increase productivity — and UGA is leading the way in developing technologies that make that shift possible.
“As UGA focuses on innovative technologies that create a more efficient and effective use of time and resources for producers, we elevate communities across the state and maintain the university’s status as a leader in agriculture,” said Alton Standifer, assistant to UGA President Jere W. Morehead, who joined the touring group on site.
UGA researchers are continually testing groundbreaking applications of current technologies, which CAES faculty members George Vellidis and Simer Virk spoke about in a presentation to the group. Both trained engineers, Vellidis and Virk advocated for increased research into how technology can transform agriculture in the fields of individual producers in Georgia and beyond to a global scale.
“By using technology and data-driven decision-making to place crop inputs such as fertilizer, seed, water, etc. in the right amounts, at the right time, at the right place, producers can increase efficiency, and in turn, increase profitability,” said Vellidis.
Standing next to the Expo’s 600-acre research fields, it was clear the impact that innovations in production agriculture could have in the lives of all who work in agriculture and environment.
“Along with researchers within CAES and at UGA, one of the best resources UGA has is its strong county-based Extension system,” Virk said. “Researchers and Extension agents work closely with growers on effective application and utilization of these new technologies on their farm, which gives us access to direct feedback on improvement opportunities.”
Broad university outreach
Jennifer Frum, vice president for public service and outreach at UGA, said that attending the Expo made her proud to be a part of what UGA is doing to support the farming community as well as all citizens in Georgia.
“I’m always inspired by visiting the Sunbelt Ag Expo because UGA’s significant presence highlights how our cutting-edge research and outreach positively impact Georgians. Our deep connections and impact on Georgia’s largest industry are at the very heart of UGA’s land-grant mission,” Frum said.
As a land-grant university, UGA seeks to provide the public with high-quality teaching, research and outreach, which often includes opportunities for collaboration among disciplines. In the same way that plant scientists and engineers are coming together to develop technology that supports local producers in the field, UGA Cooperative Extension and the UGA School of Social Work are working alongside those producers to address mental health concerns that can come with the job.
Dean Anna Scheyett of the UGA School of Social Work was on-site at the expo, talking with attendees and administering a survey to assess stress levels as it relates to their jobs in the agriculture industry.
Competition among ag deans
Between the equipment demonstrations, award presentations and grilled peanut butter sandwiches, there was still room for some friendly competition among rival universities to close out a full day for the touring group.
CAES Dean and Director Nick T. Place competed against colleagues from the University of Florida and Auburn University in the 2021 Sunbelt Milking Competition – following some intense practice in Athens, Place was able to reclaim his title as the milking champion.
While Place is proud of this win, he appreciates that the Sunbelt Ag Expo is one of the most well-rounded events in fulfilling the university’s land-grant mission.
“The Sunbelt Ag Expo gives CAES the opportunity to educate the public about our work, have conversations with future students and their families and hear straight from our constituents about their needs,” Place said. “UGA and CAES are dedicated to being supportive partners for agriculture and environment both at home in Georgia and everywhere that we have a presence.”
For more information about CAES teaching, research and outreach, visit caes.uga.edu.