When the Southern Farm Show was first held at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh in 1978, those who attended would never have fathomed the tremendous advancements that would come to agriculture in the next 40 years. They would have never imagined that satellites would soon guide tractors, seeds would be genetically engineered to better fight pests or smart phones would allow farmers to receive data on the go.
Come 40 years later in 2018, agriculture is one of the most technologically advanced industries with even more advancements on the horizon. Agriculture technology progressed rapidly in the last half of the 20th century and even more in the beginning of the 21st. And the Southern Farm Show has been along for much of the innovation.
Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Southern Farm Show Manager David Zimmerman for providing the history of the Southern Farm Show.
The Southern Farm Show began 50 years ago when a 70,000 square foot civic center was built in Atlanta. It became the site of the Southeast’s first major exposition dedicated to ag equipment, supplies and services. The show quickly outgrew the Atlanta Civic Center and in 1971 and relocated to Macon, Ga. where it ran for two years. In 1973, the show moved to the Mid-South Coliseum and Fairgrounds in Memphis.
The N.C. State Fairgrounds expanded greatly in the 1970s under the leadership of North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Jim Graham. The Kerr Scott Building opened in 1973, followed by the Jim Graham Building in 1976 and the James Holshouser Building in 1978.
With those additions, Southern Farm Show founder Robert Zimmerman was encouraged to move the show to Raleigh by Commissioner Graham, Gov. Jim Hunt and fairgrounds manager Art Pitzer. Zimmerman had produced his first exposition - the Southeastern Flower & Garden Show - in the fairground's Dorton Arena in 1961, so he knew the fairgrounds and its potential. And as a North Carolina native and resident, he wanted to bring the Southern Farm Show home. The show permanently moved to the N.C. State Fairgrounds in 1978.
Today, the Southern Farm Show uses every permanent building on the fairgrounds. In addition to outdoor exhibit space, two huge equipment tents were added in 1996 and 1998. A 50,000-square-foot exposition center was added in 2005. A major renovation at the fairgrounds turned a former racetrack into the new fair midway and created the James Martin Building. This update allowed the show to expand again in 2008 with the addition of two new exhibit tents and a large amount of new outdoor exhibit space.
As demand for exhibit space continued to grow, the 18,000 square foot Scott Tent was added in 2014. This brought the show to where it now fills four major exhibit halls, four large exhibit tents, and acres of outdoor exhibit space. It also uses three additional buildings for meetings and activities. In all, the show uses more of the facilities at the NC State Fairgrounds than any event there except for the fair itself.
In many ways, the Southern Farm Show is a more important event for agriculture than the North Carolina State Fair. Certainly the state fair celebrates the state’s largest industry and educates a mostly urban audience on the vital importance of agriculture, but it is the Southern Farm Show that draws those who actually work the land to see the latest innovations and learn how those innovations can improve their productivity.
This was true in 1968 at the very first Southern Farm Show in Atlanta; it was true in 1978 when the show was first held at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, and it is true in 2018 when thousands of farmers and other folks will walk the grounds of the Southern Farm Show to see what’s new in agriculture.
The Southern Farm Show runs from Jan. 31 – Feb. 2 at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh. Admission and parking are free.