Machinery Chatter

A Really Big Show

Jim Patrico
By  Jim Patrico , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
The 2016 Commodity Classic in New Orleans drew about 9,800 attendees. (DTN/The Progressive Farmer photo by Jim Patrico)

For years Commodity Classic and the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) coyly eyed each other across the dance hall as possible partners. When they finally took a spin around the floor together last week in New Orleans, they made a pretty classy team.

Even in a down economic year, Commodity Classic 2016 had a record number of exhibitors and record attendance.

Commodity groups such as the National Corn Growers Association and the American Soybean Association have owned the annual Commodity Classic tradeshow for 20 years. The Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) -- a trade group that represents makers of farm (and construction) machines -- also once owned a farm show called AgConnect. It took place every other year in the winter and was conceptualized as a biennial international extravaganza. It was to be the North American version of AgriTechnica, the European colossus that is the largest farm equipment show in the world.

AgConnect never reached expectations. For a while rumors suggested that AgConnect and Commodity Classic would merge to create a super show that would encompass machinery and technology, chemicals and seeds. That didn't happen, but officials from Commodity Classic and AEM did talk about the idea. Eventually, they agreed to work together on a Commodity Classic that was controlled by the commodity groups but welcomed AEM's participation.

The deal worked.

Together, the two organizations helped increase the number of companies exhibiting at this year's Commodity Classic by about 22%, from 355 in 2015 to 433 this year. Total attendance rose from 8,000 to almost 9,800.

"We had an awfully good show," Wesley Spurlock, a Stratford, Texas, farmer and co-chair of the Commodity Classic committee, told DTN/The Progressive Farmer.

The first AgConnect, which took place in January 2010, in Orlando, Florida, faced some tough wintertime competition. The National Farm Machinery Show, which is the largest indoor farm show in North America, has occurred in February every year since 1965 and this year drew more than 295,000 attendees to Louisville, Kentucky. The World Ag Expo, a large internationally oriented show takes place that same month in Tulare, California. And Commodity Classic attracts thousands of farmers every March to warm weather destination venues.

"The problem [with AgConnect] was the crowded field of shows out there; we just couldn't get the message out fast enough to keep it running," AEM president Dennis Slater said in New Orleans.

Compounding the problem was a contracting farm economy. With industry revenues beginning to shrink in 2012, AEM members, "didn't not need the extra expense" of funding a large farm show entirely by themselves, Slater said.

For a while after the disappointing 2013 show in Kansas City, rumor had it that AgConnect was going to fade away. Some AEM members would have welcomed that. But the overall organization was unwilling to let it die, and the Commodity Classic committee was willing to listen to suggestions for a get-together. What resulted, Spurlock said, is a contractual partnership for 2016 and beyond. If certain conditions are met, AEM is on track to eventually become a part owner of Commodity Classic show.

That show will not be called AgConnect. But, Slater said, "It was important to keep the AgConnect brand alive." To help accomplish that, a stage at Commodity Classic in New Orleans was named AgConnect.

AEM's original AgConnect concept will continue, too. According to Slater, that concept revolved around a "high quality show" with registered attendance so exhibitors would know the kind of audience to expect. AgConnect also would "focus on technology, not just on iron," Slater said.

Commodity Classic 2016 met those criteria. Sixty of the 400-plus exhibitors categorized themselves as "technology," while 90 called themselves "equipment." When registering, farmer/attendees could take a survey about themselves. Exhibitors and sponsors mined those surveys to learn what crops and livestock the farmers grew and on what scale. At this year's show, for instance, the average grower farmed 2,891 acres and was 52.6 years old.

To add a high tech twist to the data, each attendee's name badge contained an RFID strip. When he entered a Commodity Classic booth, a sensor recorded his presence, how many times he visited and how long he stayed. At future Commodity Classics, Spurlock said, technology might be employed to record the "hot spots" at the show -- those areas that draw the largest crowds.

All this information helps exhibitors decide for themselves the value of the show. With registration starting at about $200 plus hotel, transportation and meals, Commodity Classic attendees are serious. "Decision makers," Spurlock called them.

Interviews with exhibitors at New Orleans indicated many were pleased with the format. Learning events throughout the event were more extensive and more varied than at some other farm shows. A relaxed tradeshow schedule allowed companies to welcome "key customers" to VIP preview sessions and in-booth presentations.

As it has grown, Commodity Classic has required a larger venue. The 1.1 million sq. ft. of exhibit space in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center makes it the fifth largest in the nation. While the Classic did not fill the space, it did rent 253,000 sq. feet for booths and a total 600,000 sq. ft. for the rest of the event, including meeting rooms, banquet halls and corridor space.

All of which raises a question about future venues: How many winter destination venues will be able to host future Commodity Classics, which Spurlock hopes, "will continue to grow"?

Next year's host city of San Antonio is in the process of enlarging its convention center. The expansion should be completed by 2017. But, Spurlock said, the show will have to make some accommodations to fit a growing farm show into a smaller space. The maximum exhibit size Commodity Classic allowed in New Orleans was 10,000 sq. ft. -- which several exhibitors bought. In San Antonio, the maximum size might have to be smaller so more exhibitors can attend.

It's a sign of the Commodity Classic's success that more than 90% of the booth space has already been rented for 2017. As Spurlock said, "A lot of people really want to be there."



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