MOULTRIE — On Tuesday Colquitt County will sprout a city of tens of thousands at Spence Field as the 32nd Sunbelt Agricultural Exposition opens.

The annual farm show means more than $40 million to south Georgia communities, and this year the Moultrie-Colquitt County of Chamber of Commerce is looking to steer some of that spending to downtown Moultrie.

The chamber’s Tourism Committee is hosting a shuttle bus that will take visitors to the Colquitt County Arts Center to view a quilting exhibit. Visitors also will eat lunch downtown and have time to check out Moultrie retail stores.

“It’s going to be a first-time adventure,” Terry Shuler, chamber vice president, said. “A lot of the people coming to Expo are the RV-ers. People who are interested in quilting are passionate about their art, so they will see what’s going on in other areas.”

Shuttles will run at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. each of the three days and could be an attractive option not only for RV owners, but also for the wives of exhibitors working at Expo or anyone else interested in quilting, Shuler said.

“We’re excited to let people explore Moultrie, to see downtown and to see the arts center,” she said.

In addition to the $41 million economic impact of Expo among a 20-county area, the University of Georgia Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development said the show generates $4.7 million in income for employees and proprietors. According to the center’s 2006 report, Expo accounts for 411 part-time and full-time jobs and $271,672 in local tax revenues related to business activity.

In addition to the shuttle bus, Moultrie Main Street also is looking to let visitors know what is available in downtown Moultrie, the Main Street Director Amy Johnson said.

“I think our retail will benefit, people will be buying gas, our hotels will be full,” she said. “This is the one time we have that many people in our town at one time.”

Despite the bleak national economy, Expo’s exhibition space will be nearly filled to capacity this year, Executive Director Chip Blalock said Thursday. Blalock expects between 1,190 and 1,200 exhibitors in the indoor and outdoor exhibition spaces.

“Outside exhibition space is sold out,” he said. “It’s been amazing how many last-minute exhibitors came in just this week. We’re always pleased with the exhibitors that have thought enough of us to show with us in this economy.”

Attendance last year was 85,000, and conditions could be favorable to top that number this year, Blalock said.

“We could hope to exceed that this year with the economy being up a little bit and gas prices being down,” he said. “We’re glad gas prices are down to $2.20, $2.30 instead of $3 like they were last year.”

Among the highlights this year are twice-daily technology and solutions seminars dealing with farm issues and products.

One of those that should be of interest to Southwest Georgia farmers comes at 2 p.m. Thursday, when UGA professor Stanley Culpepper discusses control strategies for palmer amaranth pigweed. The pigweed has grown resistant to herbicides, and in some instances has overrun cotton fields in the area.

Other seminars will cover precision agriculture at 11 a.m. Tuesday, cotton seed varieties at 2 p.m. Tuesday, fertilizers at 11 a.m. Wednesday, corn, soybeans and peanuts at 2 p.m. Wednesday, and crop protection at 11 a.m. Thursday.

Although farmers will be tempted next week to concentrate on harvesting crops, Blalock said spending a few hours on the Expo grounds could be a good use of their time as well.

“If farmers will invest a half day or a day of their time they’ll see something to boost their bottom line,” he said.

Expo also will announce Tuesday the 20th annual Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year. At 2:30 p.m. that same day, the deans of the colleges of agriculture at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, Auburn, Georgia and Florida will square off in a milking contest.

NASCAR driver Jeff Burton will make an appearance from 11 a.m.- 1 p.m. Wednesday.

Expo also has exhibits that cater to backyard farmers, hunting and fishing enthusiasts and home makers.

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