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The trade show at Commodity Classic attracts thousands of growers and hundreds of exhibitors 1708 booths filled the exhibit hall at the 2014 Commodity Classic in San Antonio

The trade show at Commodity Classic attracts thousands of growers and hundreds of exhibitors. 1708 booths filled the exhibit hall at the 2014 Commodity Classic in San Antonio.

Commodity Classic celebrates 20th anniversary

Leaders from the corn and soybean industries take a look back at the first event held in 1996.

The 20th Annual Commodity Classic will be held Feb. 26-28, 2015, in Phoenix, Arizona, the site of the first Commodity Classic in 1996, which brought the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) and American Soybean Association (ASA) together for the first time for the annual event.

Commodity Classic drew 7,300+ total attendees at last year's event in San Antonio, Texas—an 18 percent increase over the 2013 Commodity Classic in Florida, which was also a record-breaker.  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).

New records are anticipated as Commodity Classic returns to its origins in Phoenix in February 2015.

Looking back at 1996

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, 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.  Both conferences were looking at ways to increase attendance, so talks of joining forces began.  A steering committee of corn and soybean farmers was formed to explore the possibility of a joint 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, Nebr., 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."

The steering committee determined that mid-winter was the best time for Commodity Classic.

Three representatives each from the corn and soybean associations served on the original steering committee tasked with combining the two shows. 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."

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."

Focus on farmers

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 www.CommodityClassic.com to sign up for email updates and register for the 20th Annual Commodity Classic in Phoenix, February 26-28, 2015.

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