For the fourth time in Sunbelt Ag Expo’s 35-year history, Alabama will be the Spotlight State and state officials say the first three were great, but the fourth time around will be a spotlight to remember.

The theme for the Alabama Spotlight State is: Alabama Agriculture — Well Grounded. The idea reflects that all things related to farming and agriculture begin with a good foundation, including the men and women who care for the soil, air and water necessary to sustain all forms of life.                                  

“Our theme focuses on the fact that Alabama agriculture is well-grounded in many areas, including history, technology, diversity, stewardship and productivity,” says Alabama Farmers Federation Executive Director Paul Pinyan, who co-chairs the Alabama Spotlight State Committee with Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries John McMillan.

The concept for the Spotlight State came from Alabama, and more specifically from Mike Sprott, who was director of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System from 1975-1980. At that time, Sunbelt Ag Expo was in its infancy and Sprott was an early and staunch supporter of the event.

“Mike Sprott is a very innovative, forward-thinking person, and he had some great ideas that helped build a modern Extension program in Alabama — one that reflected his innovation and creativity,” says former colleague Gale Buchanan. Featuring a spotlight state at Sunbelt Ag Expo is one of his many legacies, Buchanan adds.

This year Alabama’s Spotlight Tent will feature a distinctive, modern flair aimed to pique the interest of young and old visitors alike, Pinyan says. Visitors will not have to wait long to see the color and uniqueness of this year’s spotlight state.

A unique and colorful entrance to the tent, featuring a giant sod replica of Alabama, grown by Beck’s Turf Farm in Macon County, Ala., will be trimmed with thousands of flowers and plants that include pansies, flowering cabbage and kale grown by Alabama’s own Bonnie Plants Farm.

Native hardwoods and shrubs grown by Beck’s Turf Farm will round out the living display. The world-famous Catfish Car and the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association Beef Trailer will greet visitors as they approach the tent entrance.

Large flat-screen televisions will act as revolving billboards in the tent and will feature stunning photos and agricultural scenes from throughout Alabama along with interesting educational facts about every segment of agriculture in the state.

“A section in the tent that is sure to be popular is the green screen photography display that allows visitors to have their photo taken with a variety of interesting and whimsical backgrounds,” Pinyan says. “Photos will be e-mailed to participants and posted on social media sites that day to allow visitors to share their photo with friends and invite more people to our tent to learn about Alabama,” he adds.

A dirt track in the tent will give visitors the chance to drive a new John Deere tractor, albeit a remote-control toy replica tractor. The toy tractors, provided by SunSouth, will have modern implements and are exact replicas of their giant counterparts.”