The Commodity Classic is returning to its roots in 2015. The show is set for Feb. 26-28 in Phoenix, Ariz., the site of the first Commodity Classic in 1996. The original show brought the National Corn Growers Association and American Soybean Association together.
The show is now America's largest farmer-led event, attracting more than 7,300 total attendees at last year's event in San Antonio, Texas—an 18% increase over the 2013 Commodity Classic in Florida.
The San Antonio event also set new records for the number of farmers in attendance (3,874), exhibiting agribusiness companies (301) and first-time attendees (1,261).
One show, two organizations
Prior to Commodity Classic, ASA and NCGA each held their own annual conventions—the Soybean Expo and the Corn Classic, respectively.
Soybean Expo was held in the summer, which made it great for families, but attendance was hampered since the event took place in the height of the farming season. Corn Classic, on the other hand, was a mid-winter event.
"We found that a good percentage of our membership overlapped and we were all looking at ways to expand the number of people who attended," said Bart Ruth of Rising City, Neb., past president of ASA. "Corn and soybean growers are pretty much the same across the country, so many common topics and issues resonated with both.
"It was an exciting time because Commodity Classic was a new concept with bigger programming, headline entertainment and a larger tradeshow," he said.
While the mid-winter timeframe would potentially affect family attendance, the opportunity to attract farmers during the non-growing season would lead to larger crowds and greater value for exhibitors, the two groups decided.
Gordon Wassenaar, a soybean farmer from Prairie City, Iowa, represented ASA on the original planning committee.
"We weren't looking 20 years ahead. We just wanted to keep this thing alive for five years," he said. "Once it got started and got rolling, it was obvious we had something here."
'Commodity' is key
Since the first Commodity Classic in 1996, two more commodity membership associations have joined: the National Association of Wheat Growers in 2007 and National Sorghum Producers in 2009.
In 2016, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers becomes part of the show and brings its members from their AG CONNECT event to the 2016 Commodity Classic in New Orleans, La.
Ken McCauley, a farmer from White Cloud, Kan., and past president of NCGA, recalls going to the first Commodity Classic with his father.
"We were in awe of the fact that the commodity groups were together," he said. "It was a big change—and I've been to every Commodity Classic since."
The first Commodity Classic was a success, but it did not go off without a hitch. "The fire marshal stopped by and told us we had too many people on the trade show floor and that we had to shut off attendance," Wassenaar recalls. "So a few of us sneaked off to the side doors to let people in."
Commodity Classic has retained its farmer focus thanks to a grower committee that selects the programming, events and locations. Educational seminars, workshops and keynote speakers are selected from among dozens of proposals received—and the grower committee evaluates those proposals to ensure that the content and experiences for attendees are relevant and aligned with current issues, trends and topics of critical interest to farmers.
Martin Barbre of Carmi, Ill., NCGA chairman, has served on the Commodity Classic Grower Committee for three years. "You have farmers picking out the learning sessions, farmers selecting the What's New sessions; it's farmers picking out sessions for farmers and that's what makes it work," he said.
Visit commodityclassic.com for more details.
Source: Commodity Classic