While the sectors they serve have been deemed “essential” by governments around the world, trade associations representing the grain, flour and feed industries have been forced to cancel conferences until health officials determine such large gatherings are safe. Organizations such as the Grain Elevator and Processing Society (GEAPS) and the International Association of Operative Millers (IAOM) correctly chose this year not to risk exposing their members to the highly contagious new coronavirus (COVID-19), which has infected millions and killed hundreds of thousands.

Conferences organized by trade associations, particularly those that include large trade shows, play a critical role in unveiling new technology, dispersing vital information on issues impacting their respective industries, and giving attendees an opportunity to reconnect with longtime customers and colleagues and make new business connections. They also bring in the bulk of the annual revenue for these groups that helps foot the bill for the other services they provide. Trade group leaders say their organizations are financially positioned to withstand a year without conference/trade show revenue, but if the pandemic drags on another year or two — and nobody at this point knows for certain when the crisis will lift — their financial picture becomes more unsettled.

GEAPS, like other industry associations, has had to quickly adapt to this unique and disruptive situation. Board of directors’ meetings are being conducted online, GEAPS staff members are working remotely, and chapter meetings have been canceled. To its credit, GEAPS has added a section to its website that is solely dedicated to providing information related to COVID-19 that includes facts about social distancing, sanitation basics, and other tips that help grain elevator employees operate in a safe and efficient manner.

During this year without live events, Victam International, which since 1964 has organized trade shows for the feed and related industries, has taken this opportunity to expand and diversify its offerings. General Manager Sabes van den Ende said Victam is developing a digital platform that includes webinars, forums and industry news. One problem in attempting to execute this plan is that the field is already crowded with informational sources such as World Grain and other business-to-business magazines, making the long-term viability of this plan questionable. This crisis is forcing the associations to think outside the box for ways to serve their constituents, which in the long run will make these organizations even more valuable. But when this pandemic finally passes, members of these industries undoubtedly will have a greater appreciation for the live event experience.

I miss the buzz of excitement surrounding these events, whether it’s seeing new equipment on display or listening to a thought-provoking presentation by an industry expert. Most of all, I miss seeing the many friends I’ve made during my 17 years covering the grain, flour and feed industries.

While it’s true that technology has allowed many of us to conduct business safely from a distance during this pandemic, it will never adequately replace a handshake and a face-to-face conversation.

Follow our breaking news coverage of the coronavirus/COVID-19 situation.