The Delta Ag Expo A Delta Farming Tradition Going Strong

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By Erin Williams

If one could go back in time to the 1970s and walk the grounds of a Delta farm, the differences in management, technology, and day-to-day practices from those of modern farms today – now some 50 plus years later – would be astounding.

To those in the farming industry, change is undeniable. It is expected. Advancements in weed control, the constant ebb and flow of commodity markets, the mechanization of operations, and the ever-changing demands of consumers who are now further removed from the farm than ever before, can leave farmers overwhelmed at the stresses to stay ahead or even keep up.

In 1974, a group of three men met with the goal of meeting this need and allowing farmers the chance to get ahead of the next growing season. They were: James Smith, owner of Delta Rice Services, who was at the time a Mississippi State University (MSU) Extension rice specialist; George Mullendore, a retired MSU Extension cotton specialist; and Leroy Thomas, a retired Bolivar County
Extension agent.

Smith, Mullendore, and Thomas dreamed of an event that would allow farmers the opportunity to receive information on changing technologies and advancements, collaborate with other farmers, and attend educational programs that would help them to prepare for the upcoming farming season all under one roof. Consequently, the Delta Ag Expo
was established.

As news of the first event spread, it was welcomed by many Delta farmers and garnered support from various interested sponsors. The first year alone, the Delta Ag Expo attracted more than one hundred commercial and educational exhibitors and was widely attended by hundreds of visitors from all over the South.

With its 46th event just a few weeks away, the Delta Ag Expo has since become a farming tradition. Today, the event is stronger than ever. Craig Hankins, an Ag Agent for the Bolivar County Extension Service and Delta Ag Expo Chairman, has overseen the event since 2013.

“I came on board as an extension agent in Bolivar County in 2013, just as we were preparing for the 40th anniversary of the Delta Ag Expo,” said Hankins. “Luckily, we had several agents who had been in charge of the show since the 80’s really show me the ins and outs in preparing and planning for a trade show of this magnitude.”

While the upcoming 46th annual Delta Ag Expo will be held on January 16-17 at the event’s original location, the Bolivar County Exposition Center in Cleveland, Mississippi, preparation and planning has been underway for many months.

“The Delta Ag Expo Board of Directors is composed of agriculture agents and extension specialists from all nineteen Delta counties, row crop specialists, and industry personnel,” said Hankins. “Every year following the show, the entire Board will meet and discuss what happened that year, including things we want to improve upon. Then, we will start preparing for the next year’s show. It is a year-round
process, really.”

In true Delta Ag Expo fashion, having received a reputation for the quality of its educational seminars and exhibitors, this year’s event will provide attendees with a first look at new chemicals, equipment, technologies, and notable crop varieties from industry professionals. It will also feature educational seminars on traditional crops grown in Mississippi, continuing education certification opportunities, and the chance for producers to talk with MSU extension specialists and researchers all under one roof.

“The tradeshow and exhibitors are a big part of what makes the Delta Ag Expo successful. As the Delta Ag Expo has grown throughout the years, we have really gotten some great exhibitors from all over the nation,” said Hankins. “We have had twelve to fifteen companies that have exhibited at the Delta Ag Expo all 46 years, and we have had some exhibitors from as far as Texas. Each year our exhibitors grow and that is exciting for producers to have access to all of that in
one location.”

Some of the prominent returning exhibitors producers and attendees can expect to see this year are Sanders, Mississippi Crop Improvement Association, Monsanto, Helena, and Planters Equipment Co., among many others.

While the Delta Ag Expo has always been popular among agriculture producers, one thing that sets it apart from other trade shows is the family-friendly atmosphere. As someone who’s attended the event before, it’s not uncommon at all to see kids happily join their parents and grandparents who are visiting exhibitor booths.

“The kids seem to enjoy walking around and seeing a lot of the equipment we have on display; there is always something for them to look at,” said Hankins. “We have several booths – the master gardeners, for example- that seem to interest producers and their spouses or kids. It is really a
good time.”

Although the tradeshow is truly something to see at the Delta Ag Expo, the focus on education is at the heart of
the event.

“Extension in general is an educational body. We want to always provide programs that help to educate producers, and each year we work hard to improve what we did the year before,” said Hankins. “Over the two days of the event, we have seven educational seminars total take place and it helps get producers educated on up-to-date industry components. We also have the opportunity for many people to obtain their consulting licenses or commercial applicator licenses through the Bureau of Plant Industry at the expo as well.”

A new aspect of this year’s show that highlights the focus on education is a weed identification contest where attendees will attempt to correctly identify various weeds on display. Prizes will be awarded to the first, second and third places.

“The Delta Ag Expo has really become an event that has snowballed throughout the years. Each year we want to do better than the year before, whether that is through updating our website, recruiting new exhibitors, creating new educational components, etc..,” said Hankins. “This event is important to the community here and they have proved that year after year. The founders of the Delta Ag Expo were truly ahead of their time in creating something like this. I am honored to work alongside a team of people who not only want to continue it, but to improve it in the years to come.”

The Delta Ag Expo is free to the public and opens daily at 8:30 a.m., with seminars beginning at 9:00 a.m. For more information, visit their website at deltaagexpo.com, or contact Craig Hankins by phone at 662-588-4742 or by email at c.hanks@msstate.edu.