Agriculture conference season is here.
Two big ones, The National Cotton Council's Beltwide Cotton Conference which was held Jan. 5 through 7 and the American Farm Bureau which will take place Jan. 10 to 13 went entirely virtual because of COVID-19 concerns.
Many other conferences will also be held virtually including the NRCS Cotton & Rice Conference and the Commodity Classic. The virtual experience will open up the conferences to more people who have in the past been unable to attend because of scheduling conflicts or the cost associated with traveling to the meetings.
It will set a precedence for the future. People will still gather once the threat of COVID-19 is over, but many groups will maintain a virtual presence because posting meetings on the web is logistically easier than planning a live conference.
Also, I have been amazed at the reach of the virtual format. I was in a field with a cotton grower back in July when an Extension specialist drove up. He told us that a popular field day usually accommodated a couple thousand people. This year's virtual component, well really the only component, had about 30,000 hits within a few days of being posted.
At Farm Press, we've had the opportunity to provide virtual content for a number of conferences this year including our own Farm Progress Show and Husker Harvest Days. We're also still working on the online material for the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show.
It's exciting to be in the middle of all these changes. We work in an environment where change is inevitable and while it's a stretch, we make it work.
But, remember the old days? Beltwide Cotton Conference is my touchstone.
In the old days the crop protection companies would bring in a name act to perform a concert – B.J. Thomas, Crystal Gale. The Cotton Women would put on their patriotic Grown and Made in the U.S.A. fashion show.
Friends would meet up for the reception and then head out for dinner at a fancy local restaurant. If you were lucky it would be paid for by someone in an allied industry.
I could get caught up in the greetings in the hotel lobby, saying hello to those I hadn't seen in a year. Getting hugs from my parents' friends.
Once in New Orleans I was shaking hands and giving hugs. I turned around and there was a familiar face. I stepped forward for a hug and the woman stepped back with a horrified look.
It then dawned on me that she was not an old friend from the cotton industry, but someone from a reality show I had been watching. I laughed it off. She wasn't amused and stomped away.
So maybe this virtual trend is a good thing for more than just accessibility. I'm just not that good at social distancing.