What do I get from attending a conference?

Comment by Rick Donnan. What do I get from attending a conference?

I have been involved with organising hydroponic conferences since chairing the organising committee of the first Australia Hydroponic Association (AHA) Conference in 1990. I have had an involvement with all 10 subsequent biennial conferences. The AHA is now Protected Cropping Australia. I am often asked by growers why they should come to conferences and how can they justify the expense?

Firstly, I need to disclose that I am currently the paid Professional Conference Organiser for the 12th Protected Cropping Australia Conference, which will be held in Melbourne from 28 to 31 July this year. (Have you noticed how much rarer it seems to have become for commentators to acknowledge any vested interest).

Over the years, as well as preparing ‘sales’ brochures, press releases, etc, I have talked to many growers during and after conferences and also prepared and collated delegate surveys of most conferences.

The content of the program is obviously important. Often, it is specific topics which bring growers along, especially for the first time.

Some conferences tend to push motivational presentations, however, PCA conferences concentrate on technical presentations on practical aspects of managing greenhouse and hydroponic operations. A mixture of local and international experts means you have access to up-to-date information on a wide range of topics. Most conferences publish proceedings, but the PCA ensures that they are available at the conference, hence reducing the need to take notes.

There is one vital aspect, often totally overlooked by those who have never gone to a conference. This is the knowledge gained from networking. This is acknowledged as the most important factor by those who keep returning for conference after conference. Sharing between growers, exhibitors and the speakers, can lead to lead to significant benefits. Sometimes it may be a solution to a specific problem, a better way to do something, a different way of looking at a particular job, or a cheaper or better product than you currently use.

Picking up just one idea that you can put to use, more than pays the cost of the conference.

Many conferences, including the PCA’s feature a trade exhibition. Newbys are sometimes scared that they are going to be swamped by the ‘hard sell’. Of course, sometimes there are a few pushy salesmen, however, most exhibitors are very knowledgeable and eager to help growers and not merely make a sale. It is a great way to keep up to date with improvements in products and technology. The PCA Conference will feature 50 booths, including many from Holland, plus New Zealand and China.

Here is a great example of allied trader contribution to the industry. Back in those early days (the early ’90s), there was very little local knowledge of managing greenhouse technology and especially greenhouse vegetable crops. Probably the most knowledgeable person in Australia was Ari Baelde, the general manager of Rijk Zwaan Australia. He did more to lift the knowledge of vegetable greenhouse growers than anyone I know.

PH&G July 2013 / Issue 133