Agriculture, Featured, News

Georgia government officials meet over disaster relief

     Pick-up trucks flooded the parking lot at the UGA Conference Center as farmers walked into the auditorium hoping to hear good news from Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Ag. Commissioner Gary Black. The meeting was hosted by the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association.

     The pair flew into Tifton by helicopter to discuss disaster relief efforts happening in Washington D.C.  to help farmers affected by Hurricane Michael. Senators Johnny Isakson and David Perdue and U.S. Congressmen Austin Scott, Sanford Bishop and Buddy Carter joined the discussion through a video conference call.   

     The state’s agriculture industry suffered a loss in the following areas: peanuts, poultry, soybeans, dairy, pecans, greens, timber, vegetables and fruit. The University of Georgia estimates a $2.5 billion loss for Georgia agriculture, including a $780 million loss in timber alone.

     Senator Perdue used his time to make an apology to the farmers in the audience, “I want to apologize to all the farmers out there in this meeting. Washington was here and saw it firsthand after the storm and they told us they had our backs.” Perdue has talked with President Trump and was assured of his full support to push the legislation through the senate and congress.

     Kemp said “I’m all for helping everybody else that needs it after a disaster—whether that’s California after a wildfire, Florida, Alabama, South Carolina. We have helped our neighbors when they needed help, and I called Governor Ivey after the devastating storm that hit Lee County and offered our support. That offer still stands, but we need our help too.”

     A day after the deadly tornados swept through the state, Kemp received a phone call from the president. The governor used the conversation as an opportunity to express the urgency in expediting the aid to the southeast.

     The Georgia House of Representatives enacted House Bill 4EX, which allows eligible taxpayers to apply for the Timber Tax Credit from the Georgia Department of Revenue (GADOR). The program is limited to the 28 counties, including Tift, in the governor’s disaster declaration area. The tax credit should assist farmers in offsetting economic losses from Hurricane Michael.

     Initially, a $1 billion aid package failed to meet the approval of President Donald Trump because the deal included more funding for Puerto Rico who suffered crippling destruction from Hurricane Maria.

      Senator Isakson weighed in on the issue concerning Puerto Rico. “Puerto Rico is not a state, they suffered terrible damage, but they also have a crime-ridden government. Their electrical power grid has more power stolen off it than people who live there that pay for it.” He then commended President Trump, for doing everything he can to save taxpayers money.

     Congressman Scott pointed out the silver lining about the difference between the original legislatures and the current. “The original legislation was drafted at 1 billion dollars. That’s not 1 billion dollars for Georgia, that’s one billion dollars for the entire southeast and for California’s wildfires.”

     Scott continued, “We are much better off with a $3 billion appropriation passing this month than we would have been with a $1 billion appropriation passing in November or December.”

     An agribusiness owner asked if destroyed warehouses and facilities would be covered in the legislation. Bishop weighed in by saying, “The Small Business Administration has a part to play in terms of supporting agribusiness and including in the overall disaster package resources to deal with that.

     “Along with that,” Bishop continued, “The Community Facilities Program has $150 million for grants to facilities and services that are essential to our rural communities. That entire package will be there to help rehabilitate and support our rural communities and that includes agribusinesses.”

     In late February, Perdue and Isakson introduced a bill to the Senate for $13.6 billion in relief efforts to places affected by natural disasters. The bill has support from President Trump and Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell. The senators from Georgia were promised by McConnell that the bill would receive floor time before the last Monday in March so that it can be passed.

     Members of the audience expressed appreciation for Kemp and Black meeting in person with farmers amid the General Assembly session happening in Atlanta. Though appreciative, members expressed their exhaustion from dealing with the relief delays.

     Bishop explained why farmers are having trouble securing operational loans for the rapidly approaching planting season. “Time is of the essence,” said Bishop. “They’ve got to make sure that arrangements are made for last year’s operational loans to be satisfied so that lenders will know what will be coming forward so that everybody can make plans.”

     Congressman Carter praised Bishop and Scott for spearheading this legislation. “Especially thank these two guys [Scott and Bishop] in the house. It was a team effort in the house, but these two guys were the leaders.”

     Despite support from the President and Senate, it could take the house of representatives several weeks to finalize the aid package. David Bishop, a farmer from Hawkinsville, worried—despite having disaster relief—if he and other farmers would benefit after the losses brought on by the storm.

     Despite justified concerns with the timeliness of receiving relief after a five-month wait, the audience gave their politicians respect and support to continue fighting on their behalf.

     Future meetings will be held in South Georgia to discuss more information about the Timber Tax Credit from the GADOR. The closest meeting will be March 13, at the UGA Cooperative Extension Office in Cordele at 6:30 p.m.


Local sumo wrestlers place second in nationals

     Tifton- A group of locals defy stereotypes in sumo wrestling and prepared for the United States Sumo Nationals North American Championships World Team Trials. The competition took place on Feb. 9, in St. Joseph, Missouri.   

     The group trains out of Redemption Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Tifton. The head trainer at the gym, Joshua Clements, added sumo wrestling to the list of fighting sports that the gym has training sessions for. When Clements met Eric Griffin, a passionate sumo enthusiast, the two worked together to bring sumo wrestling to Tifton.

     After Griffin’s coach moved to Florida, he was left with the leadership of the Atlanta Sumo Club. In need of a proper training facility, Griffin met Clements through a sumo demonstration at a jiu-jitsu tournament. Griffin came with the knowledge and training in the sport of sumo, and Clements gave him a place to train with others who were interested in the sport.

     Eric Griffin remembers being interested in sumo wrestling from an early age and watched the sport on television every chance he had. “I used to joke that I would move to Japan and become a sumo wrestler, but I had no idea that there were people in the U.S. that actually do sumo,” said Griffin.

Head Coach at Redemption Jiu Jitsue Academy, Joshua Clements (left) stands with the Tifton Sumo Club. This is the only sumo club in South Georgia. The closest club to Tifton is in Atlanta. Photo by Billy Ray Malone.

      A training session at the gym consists of stretching and warming up. Then the wrestlers go over techniques and ceremonial procedures for a sumo wrestling match. Afterward, the club starts constantly rotating in the ring, lining up against each other.

     The closest sumo wrestling club around, besides Tifton, is in Atlanta. However, Tifton has more sumo wrestlers than the Atlanta club. The club in Atlanta has three people, and the Tifton club has over 10 people.

     A year and a half later, Clements has seen some people sumo wrestling as an activity, but most people enjoy watching it more.

     “It isn’t like watching jiu-jitsu, where you have to know something in order to understand what you’re seeing. In sumo, it doesn’t require you to know anything about the sport for people to understand what is going on in the ring,” said Clements.

     This was their first time competing in Sumo World Team Trials. The event hosted over 5,000 people in the arena comprised of wrestlers and spectators. Both Clements and Jacob Gill placed second in their weight class. The wrestlers from Tifton could represent the U.S. in the 2019 World Sumo Championship in Hawaii if something kept the first place winners from competing.

     After starting in Japan over 2,000 years ago, it began flourishing as a spectator sport until the 1600s. It is Japan’s national sport, and there has been a push to get it added to the Olympics.

     Clements is proud to bring some Japanese culture to Tifton. “What’s really cool about doing what we do is, we are bringing a small part of Japanese culture, Japanese art to Tifton and to the South Georgia area.”

     Professional sumo wrestlers compete in one general open weight class. Wrestlers could potentially go against somebody twice their size, but proper technique and form are the ultimate deciding factor more often than weight.

     An example of technique overcoming weight happened at the U.S. Sumo Open in 2013. The 175-pound American wrestler Liz Seward defeated a 400-pound British wrestler named Sharran Alexander. Seward demonstrated that sumo wrestling isn’t all about how much you weigh; it’s about using your strengths to overcome your opponent’s weakness.

Joshua Clements wrestles against Jace Nipper during sumo training before the national competition. Photo by Billy Ray Malone

     According to Clements, the medium size wrestlers do better in the open-weight division. “They are big enough to push around the light-weights and fast enough to out-maneuver the heavy wrestlers.”

     Amateur sumo wrestlers are split into weight classes, both males and females compete against each other. The group from Tifton that competed in Sumo Nationals focused on the amateur competition.

A round usually lasts anywhere between 5-15 seconds, but can potentially last several minutes. The sport is all about tradition, spirituality, technique and raw physical power.

The winner is decided by pushing the opponent outside of the ring, or by forcing the opponent to touch the ground with anything other than the foot.

While the group was in Missouri for the competition, a youth wrestling tournament was held close-by. The group participated in a youth outreach program to get children interested in sumo wrestling.

In Japan, the sport of sumo wrestling has declined in viewership as it competes next to western sports, such as basketball and baseball. The same cannot be said for the U.S.

Redemption Jiu-Jitsu Academy recommends the sport of sumo to all ages. The sport is suitable for children and can be a strong confidence-building activity.

“When we have kids in the gym training, they always ask ‘can we sumo wrestle today,’” Clements said when explaining that this was a child-friendly sport.

If anybody at ABAC is interested in sumo wrestling, you can email Clements at to find out more.


Director of the Sunbelt Ag Expo speaks to ABAC students

     The Ag. Communicators of Tomorrow (ACT) held their first monthly speaker series event Jan. 30, at the ABAC Chapel. The guest speaker this month was Executive Director of the Sunbelt Ag. Expo, Chip Blalock.

     In 1987, Blalock earned a Bachelors of Science in Agriculture from the University of Georgia as an Animal Science major. He served as the extension agent for Colquitt and Dooly County from 1987 through 1990. After working as the sales manager at the Moultrie Farm Center until 1997, Blalock began his career at the Sunbelt Ag. Expo.

     The expo gives a platform to equipment dealers in the farming industry to showcase new technology to large acreage production farmers and weekend lifestyle farmers. The Expo is known as, “North America’s Premier Farm Show,” and hosts approximately 1200 exhibitors at the three-day event in Oct. annually.

     ABAC has a long history with the Sunbelt Ag. Expo: in 1964 the event took place at ABAC campus as “Dealer Days,” put on by the Ag. Engineering Technology AET Club.  The event eventually grew off campus and developed into the massive exposition it is today.

     “The Expo continues with the same purpose that it started with. Connect the equipment dealers with the consumers and provide an environment for students and employers to network,” said Blalock. “Our 1200 plus exhibitors bring together the largest conglomeration of agricultural technology that the industry has to offer. The success of the expo is built upon creating an environment where our attendees ultimately do business with our exhibitors.”

     ABAC students are still a big part in the success of the Sunbelt Ag. Expo. Students from the agriculture communications program like Lauren Lindler have interned for the Expo to work social media and public relations for the event. Other clubs like the Ag. Business Club also participates with the Expo by volunteering as event staff.

     “I’m one of the most blessed people alive,” said Blalock. “Because I don’t have a job, I have a passion. I wake up every morning ready to go to work, prepared to make a difference in agriculture.”

      As an animal science major, Blalock never envisioned himself in the position he is in now. He feels that after working as the chairman of the Great Southland Stampede Rodeo in 1987, it prepared him for his role at the Expo.

     He reminded students how important the interview process is when applying for jobs.

     “You can never be too prepared to answer questions in an interview,” said Blalock. “If you don’t know the answer to a question, tell them that you don’t know right now, but will find out and get back to them.”

     Blalock believes every day is a great day to make a good impression on somebody.

     “It’s good to know people and it’s good to be smart, but it’s not necessarily who or what you know, but who knows you,” he said.


ABAC Stallions compete in double header against Thomas University

Starting pitcher for the Stallions, Bryson Smeltzer brought the heat to the first game in the double header against Thomas University (TU) JV Baseball team on Feb. 14. In the top of the first inning, he started off with three strike outs.

Salik Williams hit a double to left field and attempted to steal third base while Matt White was at bat. Unfortunately, Williams was caught before pushing third base, but White retaliated with a powerful home run.

Smeltzer continued the success into the second inning by grounding out the TU batter Smith for the first out. The second out was earned from Smeltzer striking out Gonzalez. Austin Hittinger caught a pop fly for the third out.

The Stallions played a great second inning in the bottom when Tate Kight doubled on a pop fly to left field. TU walked Tyler McConnell and then Sam Bennett, which caused Kight to advance to third base and McConnell to second. Bases were loaded when TU walked Cole Melancon pushing Kight to score a run.

Williams fired off with a single on a line drive to Right field, allowing McConnell and Bennett to score additional runs in the bottom of the second inning. Two pop outs finished the bottom of the second inning.

Smeltzer shut down TU with two more strike outs and another ground out to Kight in the third inning. First up to bat, Hittinger delivered a single to center field.

Austin Walls hit a single to right field and Hittinger scored a run. Next, McConnell doubled to right field and Walls scored another run. Bennett continued putting the pressure on TU with another single that allowed McConnell to score their seventh run.

TU started breaking down Smeltzer after being shut down in the first three innings. After hitting a batter, Smeltzer allowed TU to score two runs and afterward the Stallions had a short unsuccessful bottom fourth inning.

Kevin Barham relieved Smeltzer in the top of the fifth inning. Barham put his team back on track with one ground out to Kight and two strike outs. TU returned the favor with three ground outs in the bottom fifth inning.

Barham walked to players and had one strike out before being relieved by Tison Bell. TU batter, Jewett singled and the away team scored a run. Bell finished the inning by striking out the next two players up to bat.

The Stallions finished the first game strong with Noah Cunningham as their closing pitcher. ABAC won the game with a final score of 7-3.

The second game in the double header is currently unfinished and the score left off 6-5 with TU winning.


ABAC mourns the death of Chandler Brock Kuck

Vogue Fashion, TJ Maxx Macarons, and witty sarcasm come to mind when Hailey Glover and Teddi Pope remember their friend Chandler Brock Kuck. “He [Kuck] was one of the smartest students on campus,” Glover said. Pope added, “he just had a different way of showing people who he really was, and there was something special about that.”

On Nov. 27, Kuck was on his way home from Albany when his vehicle lost control on the road. Family and friends of Brock were notified that he didn’t survive the crash. Posts started flooding in on Kuck’s Facebook page after a family member posted the devasting news. Mary Harper, English and Communications Lecturer at ABAC posted on Kuck’s timeline saying, “Chandler Kuck was one of those students who you only meet once maybe twice in your career.” Kuck studied a track in history and political science, and faculty from the rural studies program adored his presence in the classroom.

Kuck was a key role to most class discussions in the upper-level history classes he took. If the classroom fell silent after a professor asked a question, Kuck was always there to save the class with a well-thought-out response. “He would legit be the only student answering the questions some days, and when he wasn’t in class, we really had to pick up a lot of his slack,” said Pope.

Kuck was known for walking into class with a fashion magazine. His favorite magazine was Vogue. Fashion was one of Brock’s interests growing up. “He always would look at everyone’s outfit and judged people’s wardrobe choices,” said Pope. “Not in a mean way, however, he couldn’t help that he had an eye for what looks good and what doesn’t.” Kuck liked wearing colorful shirts with different patterns and he wore loafers daily.

It didn’t take long for teachers at ABAC to realize Kuck’s intelligence when he registered for classes. He would come to school with a bag filled with books, but he never purchased the books required for a class. Kuck was an avid reader and a true history lover. “He was filled with random facts that you would think weren’t relevant,” Glover remembered. “It was funny because every time he [Kuck] hit us with a random fact, it always came up later in a class discussion.”
Kuck went on a class trip to the Swan House in Atlanta with Elizabeth Medley, Assistant Professor of History and Political Science. The Swan House is a 1,000,000 square ft. mansion located in Buckhead once belonging to Edward Inman, a wealthy cotton broker in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The house was acquired by the Atlanta Historical Society and serves as part of the Atlanta History Center. The first time Brock ever visited the Swan House, he fell in love with the design and its historical furniture and decorations. “He never stopped talking about the Swan House after that field trip,” remembered Pope.

The ABAC atmosphere gave Kuck a place where he was surrounded by intellectual people and a place where he could be himself. He kept his ABAC friends separate from his family and hometown friends. “There was never anything wrong with Chandler keeping us separate,” said Pope. “He had to act differently around his family than us. Would you act the same around your best friend as you would around somebody like your father?” Kuck was able to better discover himself emotionally and politically during his time at ABAC.

Chandler Brock Kuck on the right. ABAC Alumnus Chandler Brock Kuck listening to a guided tour at the Swan House in Atlanta. Photo Credit Drayton Holmes.

Anybody that knew Kuck well, knew that he enjoyed discussing politics. His political views didn’t always align with his family’s, but he didn’t hide his beliefs. Kuck formed his political opinions from constantly reading at a young age. He did his own studying without a teacher assigning homework. Kuck had a desire to learn and a love for education.

Macarons were a favorite snack for Kuck. He routinely stopped at TJ Maxx to purchase them. “We would just be sitting there hanging out and out of nowhere Chandler just pulls out a sleeve of macarons from TJ Maxx,” Glover said. Glover and Pope had a long laugh after remembering the day they found champagne flavored macarons at a store. What started off sounding like a great combination of flavor turned out to be unappealing after the friends tried the unique tasting dessert.

Kuck is remembered on campus for his brilliance and his eccentric personality. Glover and Pope agreed that it’s best to focus on all the positives from Kuck’s life. “Instead of feeling sad, we need to remember the fun times and the things we learned hanging out with Chandler,” said Pope. Kuck is dearly loved and missed by his family and friends.