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Pinke: Farm shows are what you make of them

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Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, Strasburg, N.D. Katie Pinke / Forum News Service2 / 2

What’s the value of a farm show or conference? I have considered this as I’ve spent the past few days attending Bayer’s AgVocacy Forum and now Commodity Classic in Orlando, Fla. I realize I’m “mid-career” at age 40, working for the past 17 years in a variety of agriculture communications roles. In that time, I’ve attended more than 100 farm trade shows or conferences.

I’m not a newbie to this gig, and I think that puts me in the “experienced” crowd now. Farm shows require the time and work of many organizations, businesses, sponsors and attendees.

For me, attending a farm show is not simply a requirement of a job. The longer I’ve worked in agriculture, the more I see it’s about the people. In a sea of social media posts, I’ve learned the importance of connecting offline. This week has reminded me of that importance.

Why? Hearing directly from farmers about how they are using different agronomic practices, tools or equipment to innovate, find profitability, find sustainability and, in some honest situations with the current economy, survive the next year, motivate me to keep going with my own work. I love hearing how farmers are innovating. Not everyone is transitioning their farms to a next generation of family. I like to hear about different ways and unique situations farmers face with new ideas. You don’t necessarily hear about these real-life stories on social media or traditional media.

Seventeen years of farm shows have exposed me to a wide swath of farmers from all different geographies, growing different crops. No one is farming the same way. Personal interaction with people in the industry gives me a deeper appreciation for both the common struggles across agriculture and learning what is unique to farmers farther from my prairie home.

Meeting the farmer-leaders willing to step up in leadership roles in their commodity organizations inspires me to see a younger generation, males and females, getting involved. I met Michelle Erickson-Jones from south-central Montana and plan to have an AgweekTV story on her soon. At the Bayer AgVocacy Forum, she said she elected herself to her state grain growers board, writing herself in on her ballot and her dad’s ballot. She went on to become the first female president of the Montana Grain Growers Association. Michelle’s bold approach gave me a boost of confidence. Listening to her speak and interviewing her was equally inspiring.

Connecting in person, offline, with like-minded people gives me a broader network, broadens my thinking and helps me to look differently at issues and the future of agriculture. My Uber driver from the airport when I arrived at in Orlando was the son of a Kentucky tobacco, soybean and corn farmer. He shared his story with me as we drove to my hotel. By the time it was over, he said, “I wish my dad was attending Commodity Classic to learn some new things about farming. I might have to go register and attend for him!”

I love meeting people in agribusiness, media, policy, research, science, commodity organizations and more. Some are trade show veterans who have taught me little things about the importance of being early to a meeting and wearing “trade show shoes,” comfortable enough to walk in for 15 hours and for consecutive days.

Agriculture trade shows and conferences are a lot of work, and some reading this are weary from the work they’ve put into them this winter. But I know thousands have benefited and will continue to benefit from the work of agriculture this winter. The value of a farm show or conference is ultimately up to you and what you make of it.

I walked the Commodity Classic trade show floor with my 64-year-old farmer father. I hope I have many more years and beyond to attend agriculture shows with him and hopefully can attend with my kids into the future.