Many farm shows took an 18-month pause during the pandemic as organizers dealt with provincial and state-level restrictions. As vaccines have rolled out and a new crop year has begun, many people continue to wonder how quickly  and to what extent, farm shows will return.

When our team talks to farmers, exhibitors, and show organizers, there are vast opinions on what will or could happen.

At best, the future of farm shows and conferences is cloudy, especially with the delta variant of COVID-19 in the picture.

The entire 2021 crop marketing crop cycle happened without in-person events, which has, predictably, forced exhibitors to ask whether farm shows and conferences are providing the marketing return once assumed.

For companies, farm shows are a human and capital investment that can distract from other priorities of salespeople and management.

The pause on farm shows forced companies to market through alternative options and challenged their way of selling to farmers. Tools such as Zoom, texts, and phone calls became critical.

In short, virtual farm shows flopped and exposed that farmer attendance at a show is largely socially motivated. It also proved that sales could still be made without exhibit costs, at least for the short term.

For farmers, the question of what kind of value these shows have is easier to answer. In general, farmers enjoy the opportunities that farm shows and conferences present during the less busy times of the year. Whether it’s kicking tires on machinery, getting a few nights away from the farm to blow off some steam, or having a few cold ones and visiting with fellow producers, farm shows are an escape. There can also be a learning component in that, as ideas are shared in those conversations.

Another important note is that the cost outlay to attend some farm shows and conferences is subsidized by exhibitors.

Listen to my thoughts on the possible future of farm shows from RealAg Radio last week. (MORE TEXT BELOW)

I talked to one agricultural CEO who said, “I am not sure we will spend another dollar at farm shows. Last year we had record sales without the distraction and cost of sending our people to the show.”

The other hesitancy I am hearing from exhibitors is the vaccine hesitancy or resistance to vaccines that exists in rural areas. With low vaccine rates in rural communities and farm show and conferences unwilling to take steps like the NHL to mandate vaccines or a negative test result, some exhibitors are cautious on sending their employees into this environment in the short term.

Typically, with these kinds of discussions I would post a poll but I think that is pointless considering how farmers replied to the above audio from RealAg Radio.

Here is a sample of one reply from listener Geoff:

“For me, I’m 100% going back as soon as that’s an option. There are many reasons, but the main one is simple: people.  I operate a dairy that on most days, is just myself. It can be isolating, which I am totally fine with and actually love most of the time. Trade shows allow for me to connect with people, which I find reinvigorates me to go through the next stretch.”

This week Farm Progress Show in the U.S. returned to Decatur, Illinois, and RealAgriculture was there covering the show like it was 2019. Honestly our team felt it was great to be back in the saddle, roaming from booth to booth, visiting with clients, talking to our audience and having a few beers to end the day.

“After the whirlwind of Farm Progress Show, I’m back in my home office exhausted, which to me signals a successful show — I was busy enough to never really stop,” says field editor Kara Oosterhuis. “I had the opportunity to meet numerous individuals I’ve interviewed via Skype over the last 18 months. During that time period of virtual interviews, sometimes  I’d think afterwards, ‘so and so sure didn’t have a ton of emotion.’ (But) get that same interviewee in person, in front of the brand-new tractor they are excited to share, and it’s a whole new experience.”

Talking to big exhibitors, Oosterhuis adds, many were pleased with the amount of foot traffic and conversations that were occurring at Farm Progress Show. “Overall, shiny new steel was exciting, but I’d agree with the sentiment: people were most excited to see people. Hugs were shared, and you always seemed to hear someone laughing near you. It certainly wasn’t a quiet show.”

I think that some farm shows and conferences will make their way back like Farm Progress in the U.S. is this week, but some will fade into irrelevance as corporate budgets for these things are under greater scrutiny. The old adage of “if we are not there as an exhibitor, people will notice” is not good enough anymore.

The real pressure will be on farm shows and conferences to enter the current decade and deliver real value with what is offered to exhibitors in terms of delegate tracking and lead generation.

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