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Specialty Crop Trade Shows Go Virtual: Now We’re Talking About the Digital Age of Farming!

In the last couple of weeks, I have received news about many annual agriculture and specialty crop industry conventions, conferences, and trade shows going virtual (the Lynden Ag Show, the NW Hort Expo, and the Great Lakes Expo to name a few). As an exhibitor, I do not know exactly what to expect and I am sure that many attendees are wondering what these virtual events will look like, too.

How do I prepare for a virtual trade show? How do I reconnect with current customers and meet new growers in the same way? How can farmers learn and evaluate technology that becomes more tangible on a show floor? Will communication on a digital platform give our company enough credibility that may be more easily established in face-to-face conversations? For a new adopter of technology (someone who might be more hesitant to jump on the bandwagon), will it be enough to only meet virtually? Will these people even "attend" virtual events?

I did a little research on what people are saying about virtual conferences and trade shows. One positive, there is a lower cost to entry. The traveling can be a fun part of attending a show—as an attendee and exhibitor. It is a great excuse to get out of town for a change in scenery, try new restaurants (often on the company’s dime), and meet up with industry colleagues and friends. However, these benefits do come at a cost. Without these travel expenses, more exhibitors and more attendees can potentially benefit from the virtual event.

Another positive, flexibility. Often, you can view content on your own time when it is more convenient for you. No need to block two or three full days out of your busy life to spend dawn until dusk at the convention center. Access industry specialists, exhibitors, and the content you are looking for while at home (for many of us right now) or in the office.

I came across a video emphasizing the importance as a virtual exhibitor to, “think out of the booth.” Do not expect an in-person trade show or exhibit hall because you will be disappointed, or have a mindset that prevents you from taking advantage of the opportunities a virtual show offers. Shifting expectations can be a challenge. Many of these Ag shows have taken place for decades. However, I would argue that 2nd Sight, and many other Ag tech companies, are trying to do just that—shift the mindset of the specialty crop industry in terms of new technology applications and adoption. As an exhibitor, our goal is to “think out of the booth” and use technology and virtual platforms to better justify the case for technology in the farm environment.

I think the specialty crop industry should get on-board with virtual. Farming has entered the digital age. It is time to use online platforms to more easily demo, well, online software and platforms that will help farmers better manage their fruit, vegetable, nursery, or greenhouse operations. This year, the physical 2nd Sight booth will be less of a booth and more like a solution center where product demos and video content can more easily be shared, viewed, and discussed.

Why do you attend conventions and conferences? Do you enjoy the travel, the camaraderie seminars, and industry updates? Or do you see these events as an opportunity to make new connections, reconnect with current suppliers and customers, and learn about new products? Or, do you go to stock your desk with vendor pens and other swag (send me your address and I will send you some pens)? 2020 has been a year of challenges, and a year that has pushed our resiliency, adaptability, and creativity. The only constant is change, let’s embrace it.