“Even 10 years ago, we didn’t have the media buzz related to buying local food (that exists now). People are now recognizing they want to meet a farmer just like you. The times they are a-changing, and I’m very positive they are for the better.”

• One Southern food producer that has had some success supplying sophisticated food consumers has been McCall Farms of Effingham, S.C. It sells a variety of products, almost entirely fruit and vegetables, and has done very well recently with its Margaret Holmes line, which provides a wide array of Southern-style canned fruit and vegetable products.

The head of McCall Farms, Henry Swink, spoke at the expo, and told Southeast Farm Press, his company doesn’t contract with any farmer who doesn’t have center pivot irrigation.

“Everyone’s interest is protected when you know the crop's water needs will be met,” he said. “No farmer can afford to lose his inputs to drought.”

There is one exception. “We use drip irrigation on squash,” he said. “It yields so much better. Drip irrigation would be a drawback on most crops, because you can't mechanically harvest. But squash has to be hand harvested anyway.”

McCall Farms' growers enjoyed a good season in 2012, he said. “We had very good yields and excellent quality, and I would have to say it was one the better years we have ever had.”

The expo attracted about 2,500 attendees, and that, along with the good response to the sessions and exhibits, encouraged organizers to announce it will be held again during the same week of January in 2014.

“We had a great event,” said Jody Martin of Palmetto Consulting Solutions and co-chairman of the event.

“We got great response from our vendors, and we had a good quality group of growers to come through. There was a lot of knowledge shared, and a lot of information shared, and the exhibitors made good connections.

“At this point we are getting input from all of the people involved so we can makes tweaks for the next show.”

“The event should lead to a stronger agricultural industry in the state, with increased economic opportunities for those currently involved,  said David Winkles, president of the South Carolina Farm Bureau. “It should bring new agricultural industry development to our state.”

(For background on planning for the Expo, see First South Carolina AgriBiz and Farm Expo set for Jan. 16-18).