The GEAPS Exchange, the annual technical conference and trade show of the Grain Elevator and Processing Society, is all about information.
"Not just information, but understanding the impact of that information on your operations," said Dave Krejci, executive vice-president of the Minneapolis-based GEAPS.
This year's conference is the 72nd annual and is being held March 3-6 in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S. Attendance is expected to reach nearly 2,000, and typically draws the grain industry's top operations people.
A full slate of activities is planned, including a pre-conference workshop on dust control, an extensive educational program concentrating on issues in the grain industry (see schedule on next page), a comprehensive trade show (see story on page 42) and networking events galore.
The concept for the conference doesn't change from year to year, only the location, Krejci said. "GEAPS' mission is to create forums for the exchange of knowledge about the business of handling and storing grain," he said. "Everything in the conference is about that."
The organization's biggest challenge in recent years has been to ensure that it is a global forum. "The strategic direction of the board is to expand internationally — and not just in the sense that North America is international," Krejci added. "This really is about being global."
Tom DiGiorgio of the Scoular Co., Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., who will end his year-long term as president of GEAPS at the upcoming conference, said the group needs to start reaching out more in an international forum.
"There is an opportunity to align ourselves with organizations all over the world like GEAPS that have common interests and common missions," he said.
GEAPS has established a relationship with APOSGRAN, a post-harvest grain organization in Argentina, and has had contact from similar groups in Australia, South Africa, Bulgaria and India. GEAPS also added a Spanish link to its web site, and hopes to begin offering technical information in Spanish on the site.
Growing the membership base also is important, DiGiorgio said. A by-laws change before the GEAPS membership would create a category for international affiliate associations, allowing groups outside North America to establish a link to exchange information, networking and problem solving.
This year's GEAPS Exchange in Phoenix, partly because of the city's southwest U.S. location, also is expected to draw the largest and most diverse international delegation ever, with attendees from Mexico and Central and South America, particularly Argentina, as well as China and the Pacific Rim. There also are speakers on the program from the Middle East and Greece.
The long-range goal is to involve people outside North American grain operations directly in the planning process, Krejci said. "We want to make it possible for a larger group of people to participate in the exchange of knowledge," he said.
This year's educational program includes a diverse mix of topics, many with a broad, international scope: the enormous new grain terminal at Xizui, China; testing for GMOs; e-commerce in the grain industry; the cost of identity preservation; and grain fumigation and behavior-based safety. A two-hour forum involving all the major U.S. railroads will highlight grain-industry problems and concerns relating to shuttle- and scoot-train service.
Ed Johnson, who works in the commercial agri-business underwriting unit of MSI Insurance, Arden Hills, Minnesota, U.S., is chairman of the education committee that selected the topics and speakers for this year's GEAPS Exchange. Planning takes from a year to 18 months and begins with an all-day brainstorming session. Ideas are solicited from each of GEAPS' 33 chapters, then whittled down to about 19 topics.
"When you're doing this almost a year in advance, it's hard to know what is going to be relevant," Johnson said. "That's where the workshops come in. These topics are not decided until late December; we know they will be hot buttons."