ATLANTA, GEORGIA, US — The crowded exhibition floor and standing-room-only attendance at the various educational sessions at this year’s International Production & Processing Expo (IPPE), held at the World Congress Center in Atlanta, has event organizers smiling and optimistic after the cancellation of the 2021 show due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a significantly reduced turnout in 2022.

Although no official attendance numbers have been released for the 2023 event, which began Tuesday, Jan. 24, and ends Thursday, Jan. 26, officials are confident this year’s attendance will be closer to the pre-pandemic years, which routinely attracted more than 30,000 participants. Last year’s event drew only 22,000 delegates.

Constance Cullman, president and chief executive officer of the American Feed industry Association (AFIA), which co-sponsors the event along with the US Poultry and Egg Association and the North American Meat Institute, said the rebound in attendance was one more indication of a return to normalcy.

“It looks like we’re back to pre-COVID numbers, so we’re really excited about that,” she said. “Last year was a little lighter. The people who came, came to do business, but the numbers were definitely down.”

Asked what kind of feedback AFIA had received from its members regarding this year’s educational programs, Cullman quipped: “The best feedback we have gotten is standing-room only.”

Among the well-attended AFIA educational programs were the annual Pet Food Conference, a session on biosecurity preparedness, and a session that updated the industry on regulatory issues impacting US feed mills.

Equally thrilled by the huge turnout were the suppliers of equipment and services to the feed industry who reported having a number of productive conversations and receiving a number of business leads on the exhibition floor.

Chris McLean, executive vice president of Abel Slide Gates, a part of Essmueller Company, a Laurel, Mississippi, US-based manufacturer of grain handling equipment, said that even though more business is being conducted virtually, the large turnout at this year’s IPPE shows that exhibitions and conferences are still an important way to do business.

“I think more people are starting to travel and get back out there,” McLean said. “I think being here and shaking hands and seeing people in person once a year keeps that connection.”

Like most equipment manufacturers surveyed at the IPPE, Essmueller/Abel is enjoying a surge in business activity, McLean said.

“We’re seeing a lot of growth in the feed industry,” he said. “We’re hearing of new feed mills coming online in the future. We thought five years ago the feed market was pretty much maxed out, so it’s good to hear some plans are in the works for new feed mills.”

Chris Wagner, sales account representative for Plymouth, Minnesota, US-based Bühler Inc., said he was pleasantly surprised by the rebound in attendance at IPPE.

“This year has been great,” Wagner said. “It’s been a lot better than expected in terms of the number of leads and conversations we’ve had.”

Wagner said IPPE attendees having been asking about the latest innovation from Bühler, which manufactures a wide range of feed milling equipment for its global customer base.

“We’ve recently expanded our portfolio a bit to cover even more of the market,” he said. “We’ve got a larger size mixer that came out last year. We’ve got new pellet mills coming out this year to service the smaller to medium-sized markets, and a brand-new hammermill line based on our current MultimpactMax technology.”

Wagner said Bühler’s feed division has seen tremendous growth in the Central American and Mexican market. To address that growth, Bühler in 2022 created a joint venture with IMDHER SA, a leading player in the animal nutrition market in Mexico. The new company, called IMDHER Bühler, will offer Bühler’s core machines as well as IMDHER’s expertise to IMDHER’s customers, providing solutions that will help them to improve the capacity and efficiency of their operations.

“It’s been a very strong market for us lately,” he said.

The 2024 IPPE is scheduled to take place Jan. 30-Feb. 1 at the Georgia World Congress Center.