In 1974 Delta farmers were making some tough decisions. An influx of chemical products for weed and insect control offered exciting alternatives to the hoe and plow. However, the changes weren't simple. Growers had to learn about application rates and techniques, crop injury and managing the costs of the new control methods.
Recognizing a widespread need for the rapid dissemination of answers to their questions, a few men undertook the establishment of an event that has since become a Delta farming tradition: the Delta Ag Expo.
The Delta Ag Expo was established in 1974 to provide Delta farmers with a one-stop shopping experience. The event was the brainchild of three men: James Smith, owner of Delta Rice Services, who was at the time Mississippi State University Extension rice specialist; George Mullendore, retired MSU Extension cotton specialist; and Leroy Thomas, retired Bolivar County Extension agent.
“Back then we were at the transition from mechanical weed control or cold-steel farming into chemical weed control,” said Smith. “The first Delta Ag Expo placed a lot of emphasis on the chemicals and how to put them out. The Delta Ag Expo was a place chemical companies could go set up and the farmers come by and visit them. They could give them brochures and talk to them on a one-to-one basis away from their office.”
The men couldn't promise their bosses the event would be a success, but when private companies heard of the idea and offered to provide sponsorship, Mullendore said that was the assurance they needed to make the idea a reality.
The first Delta Ag Expo attracted more than 100 commercial and educational exhibitors and drew hundreds of visitors from Mississippi and surrounding states.
“We set that arena up for 100 to 115 exhibits and we had a waiting list of people wanting to exhibit the first year,” said Smith. “People were anxious for information on these new chemicals and various new technologies.”
Chemical farming was just one of many new technologies that would come to the market during the next 30 years. Each year the Delta Ag Expo is planned with the goal of providing growers the very latest and most reliable information available as they plan for the upcoming crop.
“The Delta Ag Expo has always been and continues to be the best place for growers to gain the information they need on a timely basis,” said MSU-ES agricultural engineer Jim Thomas, who now co-chairs the Delta Ag Expo Committee with Bolivar County Extension director Don Respess.
“We have some excellent educational seminars, and that is what the Delta Ag Expo is known for,” said Thomas. “The Delta Ag Expo comes at a time of the year when farmers are planning for the 2003 year. Many times the Delta Ag Expo provides their first look at new varieties, chemicals, equipment and an opportunity to hear the latest recommendation from specialists on crop production. The Delta Ag Expo kicks off the new planting year.”
The kickoff for the 2003 year will be Jan. 21-22 at the event's original location: the Bolivar County Exposition Center in Cleveland, Miss.
In the tradition of the Delta Ag Expo, growers will have the opportunity to view agricultural exhibits and talk with Extension and research personnel and get up-to-date information for planning the 2003 crop year,” said Respess.
The 2003 event includes an 11:30 a.m., Jan. 21, keynote address by USDA Under-secretary and Mississippi native Bill Hawks. The Jan. 22 keynote address will be given by Rob Westmoreland, executive vice president of crops supply and demand research for Sparks Co.
The event, cosponsored by the Delta Ag Expo Corporation and MSU-ES, offers ag-related seminars on production practices relative to the Delta's major row crops and more than 125 commercial and educational exhibits.
The Delta Ag Expo opens daily at 8:30 a.m. Seminars begin at 9 a.m. and admission is free. For more information, contact Don Respess or Kay Garrard at 662-843-8361 or e-mail [email protected]  or [email protected] .
Eva Ann Dorris, ag journalist from Pontotoc, Miss., can be reached at 662-419-9176 or [email protected] .