February 27, 2024

GFAI gears up for ‘Championship Season’

Karl Mecklenburg

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Educational sessiona, motivational speakers, networking with peers, and learning about the latest and greatest products will highlight the annual Grain and Feed Association of Illinois Convention and Trade Show at Union Station, St. Louis.

The convention, under the theme “Championship Season,” kicks off Sunday, Feb. 18, with the 4 p.m. opening of the trade show, scholarship meet-and-greet, and reception.

Keynote speaker Karl Mecklenburg, former NFL all-pro player and team captain, will deliver his message on teamwork and leadership in a changing world at 9:45 a.m. Monday, Feb. 19.

Mecklenburg rose from a college walk-on and 12th round draft choice to an NFL career with the Denver Broncos that included three Super Bowl and six Pro Bowl appearances. Widely considered the most versatile player in the NFL, Mecklenburg played all seven defensive front positions, often in the course of a single game. In 1987, he was selected as both the AFC Linebacker of the Year and the AFC Player of the Year. Since retiring, the former Broncos captain has been enshrined in the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame and the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.

Mecklenburg has been a semi-finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame each of the last five years. As a speaker and author, he has dedicated himself to inspiring long term positive change in teams and individuals.

Breakout Sessions

A full slate of general and educational sessions are on tap for Monday, Feb. 19, including the following breakout sessions:

• Property Insurance Claims in the Grain Industry, presented by Reid Clary, vice president, AssuredPartners Agribusiness. He will break down property insurance challenges unique to the grain and feed industry, the claims process, strategizing for the future, and mastering new terminology in the insurance industry. Attendees also will get information on elevating their property risk profile.

• Cyber Defense Playbook: Securing the Agribusiness Field, presented by Timothy J. Gotta, USI’s Midwest, Central and Mountain West Regional Cyber Liability Insurance director for USI Insurance Services’ Executive & Professional Risk Solutions Practice. The talk will include current market trends in cybersecurity, and actionable steps to elevate your security awareness and refine your cyber game plan. This session equips agribusiness professionals with the playbook needed to outsmart cyber threats.

• Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Grain Handlers, presented by Aaron Gelb, co-managing partner, Conn Maciel Carey, an OSHA-defense law firm; and Derrick Bruhn, general manager, Topflight Grain. Aaron Gelb, co-managing partner, Conn Maciel Carey, an OSHA-defense law firm; and Derrick Bruhn, Topflight Grain Cooperative general manager, will discuss the five most common bin entry safety challenges and why Illinois grain handlers need to address them given today’s enforcement-focused regulatory environment.

• Building and Retaining Your Dream Team, presented by Dustin Toberman, founder of OmniAg Consulting. Landing a top recruit can mean the difference between winning it all and missing the playoffs altogether. However, signing top talent means nothing without development. Toberman will break down what today’s prized recruits are looking for in an organization and how to keep them playing for you instead of hitting free agency.

• Soybean Oil Demand: How Biofuels are Leading Profitability, presented by Andrew Larson, Illinois Soybean Association director of government relations and strategy. From traditional FAME (fatty acid methyl esters) biodiesel to the California renewable diesel boom, the demand for soybean oil as a reliable and efficient feedstock for renewable fuels has rippled through the soybean industry. The emergence of sustainable aviation fuel and policies supporting the use of soybean oil around the country can change the market even further.

A session Monday afternoon, Feb. 19, features the topic: Game Changers for Resilient Ag Supply Chains: Optimization, Data-Driven Analytics, and Artificial Intelligence.

The session will be presented by Yanfeng Ouyangg, a George Krambles professor, Paul Kent faculty scholar; and Donald Willett, faculty scholar at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, lead on the Food Security Thrust at the Center for Digital Agriculture, and associate director of the Illinois Center for Transportation.

The Center for Digital Agriculture at the university was formed to help agricultural producers, researchers and industries keep pace with the ways technology is transforming how we feed and support a growing global population. Topics covered will include supply chain design, resource planning to minimize post-harvest loss and shipment congestion, robotics and sensor development, machine vision for crop and livestock monitoring, and mechanical weeding.

Final Day

Topics featured on Tuesday, Feb. 20, to conclude the convention will be:

• 2024 Game Plan: Industry Policy and Regulatory Updates with National Grain and Feed Association, presented by Michael Seyfert, NGFA president. Seyfert will update the audience on federal legislative and regulatory challenges facing the industry.

• Fast Track to Success — Rail and the Grain Industry in 2024, presented by Jarad Farmer, CPKC Railway director of grain sales, North America. He will dive into the recent CPKC merger, which created the first and only single-line railway connecting Canada, the U.S., and Mexico. This strategic move expands market reach and ensures reliable service in the grain industry.

• High-Impact Weather for Farming, presented by Eric Snodgrass, Nutrien Ag Solutions principal atmospheric scientist. Weather risk in production agriculture is ubiquitous and the successful execution of a crop plan requires accurate weather forecasting and analysis. He will focus on how to use the abundance of weather data to stay ahead of disruptive weather events. He will also talk about the limits of predictability for weather events and learn about the resources available to monitor changes in the longer-range forecasts.

About GFAI

GFAI’s roots trace back to 1893 when a group of privately held companies joined efforts to form the Illinois Grain Dealers Association. T.P. Baxter, Taylorville, served as the first president in 1893-1894 of the then-Illinois Grain Dealers Association. B.S. Tyler was the first executive officer, serving from 1893 to 1898.

Since that time, there have been three other associations that merged in 1971 to become GFAI. The organization represents more than 90% of the commercial grain storage space in the state of Illinois where members include operators of grain elevators and grain handling facilities, processors, feed mills, and companies that provide goods and services to the industry.

At a Glance

Grain and Feed Association of Illinois Convention and Trade Show

Feb. 18-20

Union Station, 1820 Market St., St. Louis.


Tom Doran

Tom C. Doran

Field Editor