Farm conferences are valuable resource for producers

Learning about new technology occurs in different ways.

Some people will take classes at the local college. Others may use the internet to search for information or YouTube to learn how to do something. Some may actually read magazine articles.

Winter or those slow times between crop production cycles brings another option for learning: conferences, shows, and expositions.

As a precision ag instructor and director at West Hills College, I get the opportunity to attend, seemingly weekly, conferences and meetings. With the World Ag Expo in Tulare, California, coming up shortly, now seems like a good time for an article about the value of these events from two different perspectives: that of the attendees and that of the speaker or an exhibitor.

The exhibit hall, in the case of a large show, may take more than one day to go through and see every single exhibitor. These shows offer the opportunity to collect a year’s worth of pens and pencils, notepads, yardsticks, hats and other promotional goodies. At times I am amazed at the variety (and sometimes the usefulness) of the new gadgets that companies give away.

I recently picked up something that I couldn’t tell what it was — no instructions or pictures. After a few minutes I had figured out it to be a car air freshener. Now every time I get in my car, I see the name of that company.

However, the main reason you are attending a conference hopefully isn’t to pick up a car air freshener.

The opportunity to see the latest technology would be a good reason to attend a conference. Even quickly walking through an exhibit hall, a person can pick up a variety of technologies and their amazing functions. And if you attend the same conference year after year, a person can see trends within a specific industry.

One specific conference I regularly attend focuses on precision agriculture. It originally focused on GPS devices, but after a few years, the predominant type of exhibits dealt with hardware. Within a few more years you could see the switch to software. Just last year the majority of exhibitors’ big focus was on artificial intelligence and analytics. This trend analysis of scanning exhibits is interesting, but there is more.

The real educational value of conferences is the chance to talk with the exhibitors.

Just walking by grabbing the latest flyer or goodie and looking at the display provides awareness but not learning. Talking with the exhibitor is when you actually find out how something works or if it has some value for you. After all, that is exactly why the exhibitor is there — to talk with people and make sure they know about their product or service.

From my perspective as an exhibitor, I’ll always wonder why so many attendees walk by my booth and don’t at least ask a few questions. I’ve seen them walk in the middle of the aisle looking straight ahead, only glancing at a booth so as not to make eye contact. Maybe they are afraid that they are going to get a hard sale and get pressured to buy something. Or maybe they are afraid of asking a dumb question.

The exhibitor is trying to attract your attention with a bright display and giveaways. However, very few are there to sell you something. Most are there to meet people and gain name recognition.

I’ve also had the opportunity to be a speaker at conferences. It is hard to appeal to the broad audience that attends some expos and shows. I have no idea what their motivation is for being there. Maybe they are tired of walking around the exhibits or they need a place to finish their needlepoint (actual case).

Usually I try to provide basic information for the beginner, while including some advanced pieces of information for the advanced user.

This is important to note here because what I enjoy most as a speaker is when people from the audience ask questions after the presentation. In this way, I don’t have to worry about how broad or detailed I am in speaking because if people feel open to talking afterward, that is when I can provide detail that I couldn’t in the speech. I’ve finished with a talk and ended up with a group of people in a discussion that I also learned from.

The point here is to encourage you to take an active role in the next conference or farm show that you attend. Interact with the exhibitors, track down that speaker and ask the dumb questions. Precision doesn’t happen until you learn how.

Terry A. Brase is an agriculture consultant, precision agriculture educator and author. BrASE LLC. Contact him at newsroom@producer.com

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