Last winter, I attended around seven conferences in the span of three months, before the pandemic swept in and halted all other in-person conferences. From taking pictures at the Annual Mid-South Farm and Gin Show in Memphis, Tennessee, to sitting in on talks from Extension specialists at the Mississippi State University Row Crop Short Course in Starkville, Mississippi., conferences have a lot to offer.
Conferences are a way to gain knowledge of new technology, farming practices, and agriculture research on anything from soil health to pest management to weed control. While conferences provide valuable information on ways to enhance the farm, another thing they offer is community. Farmers and agriculture industry workers can see old friends and make new ones.
For me, conferences have been a way to network as well as catch-up with colleagues. As a home-based worker, I stay connected with the Delta Farm Press team through email, video chat, and phone calls, but there is no replacement for an in-person chat over lunch or coffee. Conferences provide a time and place for camaraderie.
I've found several benefits to online conferences. For one, I can sleep in my bed instead of a hotel room, which I greatly prefer. Hotel rooms never compare to the comfort of home. Also, online conferences usually allow you to watch videos in your own time, or you can watch videos again if you missed something important. Personally, my favorite part about online conferences is eating snacks while listening and taking notes. I can eat chips without disturbing the presenter. Win-win.
However, one major aspect online conferences miss is the community. At the Mississippi State University Row Crop Short Course, I reconnected with friends I met while working at MSU, and at the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show, I saw several colleagues, some for the first time. At every conference, I meet farmers and industry experts to talk about new developments in farming and research.
From talking with Ron Smith over dinner at the Louisiana Agricultural Technology & Management Conference to chatting with Shelley Huguley while running around the Gin Show's conference center, these are the moments that make conferences memorable.
With COVID-19, online conferences and field days have become a necessary new normal. Several conferences I attended last year have already been changed to an online format while some went ahead and canceled for this year. Others are tentative.
In a year like 2020, who knows how the next few months might play out. It's important to be safe, but hopefully, there is a time soon when there is an option to have in-person as well as online conferences to meet everyone's needs.
There are certainly merits to online conferences, namely munching on snacks, but it will be nice to see a few familiar faces as well as some new ones in the future.