A global powerhouse in producing food and animal feed for U.S. consumption and international trade, the Midwest is a prime location for agriculture-related meetings, conferences and tradeshows.

Many of these events, from the annual student National FFA Convention that hosts nearly 70,000 attendees in Indianapolis, to the more intimate IBA Annual Agriculture Conference for ag bankers in Ames, Iowa, have one thing in common—their proximity to colleges and universities.

Midwest academic institutions are full of potential when it comes to providing positive experiences for both meeting planners and attendees, particularly for ag-related events. Some of the nation’s most robust agriculture programs are located in the Heartland, such as Iowa State University and Ohio State University, among others.

Whether hosting an agriculture event near or at a college or university with a related program, meeting planners will find that working with these institutions can provide multiple benefits, including:

  • Primary access and location
  • Diverse meeting space
  • Quality amenities like catering and state-of-the-art technology
  • Expert speakers with research in specific ag-related topics
  • Access to students for networking, event attendance and recruitment

[Related: New Mid-American Downtown Hotels]

Accessibility is Key

“Hotels and conference centers that are located at or near a university or college derive numerous benefits from this proximity,” wrote Anne R. Lloyd-Jones, senior managing director and director of Consulting & Valuation at HVS, a global hospitality consulting firm. “The most obvious benefit is the opportunity to participate in the demand generated by the institution.”

Lloyd-Jones added that this demand can be broadly classified in several categories, including:

  • Alumni
  • Visiting professionals, including professors, doctors, lecturers, etc.
  • Individuals conducting business with the university divisions, departments or related institutions
  • Individuals attending university-sponsored events such as continuing education or symposia

Many ag-related colleges and universities are centrally located and near city centers, making them easily accessible to those traveling for agriculture events and business. As Lloyd-Jones noted, this makes these institutions a source of demand for hospitality properties, as “proximity to an educational institution is considered a positive characteristic of any potential hotel site.”

Having an ideal location makes it easy for academic institutions to consistently host guest speakers, visiting researchers and professors, alumni, past and present students, students’ parents and more—all of which have the potential to land at your next meeting or event.

Increasing Attendance and Amenities

The varying agriculture colleges in the Midwest can be a great source for planners who are looking to increase meeting attendance, whether they be professionals or students. Attendees and students both benefit from this opportunity—students can present research, practice elevator pitches with professionals, and get real-world advice and industry knowledge while attendees can network and recruit potential future employees.

Some Midwest colleges provide easy-to-use resources for planners, such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Experts Database. It’s a list of UW-Madison faculty and staff experts who can speak to media and groups on breaking news, ongoing developments and trends in their fields of expertise, including ag-related topics, and is searchable by name, keyword and general subject area.

[Related: 4 Farm-to-Table Restaurants in Madison, WI]

Along with guest speakers, meetings and events that are hosted on-campus have access to an array of top-notch amenities. Universities invest heavily in their amenities to ensure they attract (and keep) new students,” stated an article on IACC, the global association representing the conference center segment, which includes colleges and universities. “Corporate clients can rest assured their guests will experience top-notch facilities in inspiring campus surroundings.”

Whether hosting an ag event on- or off-campus, planners should consider utilizing university amenities like tours of facilities, state-of-the-art technology, catering, the campus’ diverse range of meeting spaces and learning environments, and guest accommodations. This can be cost-effective to your event’s bottom line as services like catering made through universities are often exempt from sales tax.

From research facilities and subject-matter experts to finding potential attendees and furthering amenities, Midwest agriculture colleges offer multiple ways to heighten your next ag-related meeting or event. 


Midwest Ag Meetings with Ag Schools

When planning your next agriculture event, consider tapping any of these colleges or universities as a potential resource. Each offers on-campus meeting and event space as well as amenities like catering and state-of-the-art technology. If off-campus is more your style, nearby convention centers are listed for further options.

Iowa State University, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Ames, Iowa

Curtis Hall, ISUOn-campus: ISU is well-known for its agriculture programs—the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has some of the largest enrollment in the nation, making it a great resource for potential student recruitment, guest speakers, seeing the latest technology innovations and more. For planners looking to host an event on-campus, the cornerstone of the Ames and ISU convention and meeting infrastructure is the multifaceted Iowa State Center, according to ISU’s Conference Planning and Management website. Its facilities feature the C.Y. Stephens Auditorium that holds 2,700, the flexible Hilton Coliseum that has seating for 14,500, and the intimate Fisher Theater for 450.

(Photo: Curtis Hall; Courtesy of Iowa State University)

Off-campus: Within 10 minutes from campus are several conference hotels with offerings for additional meeting space, as well as unique alternatives such as wineries, library meeting space and more. Those looking to host an event in a larger city can also consider Des Moines, the state capital, which is a 30-minute drive from ISU and home to several large convention centers like Catch Des Moines and the Iowa Events Center.

Image of Iowa Events Center
Photo: Image of Iowa Events Center; Credit: Katie McDonald Photography

Purdue University, College of Agriculture

West Lafayette, Indiana

On-campus: Purdue Conferences executes nearly 700 diverse programs a year, such as the Top Farmer Conference at the campus’ Beck Agriculture Center. The facility can hold up to 250 guests and has a 5,000-square-foot multipurpose room. Also available on-campus is the centrally located Stewart Center, accommodating groups from 10 to 1,000 between its two auditoriums and 23 meeting rooms, as well as the historic Purdue Memorial Center, several indoor and outdoor theater venues, classrooms and more.

Off-campus: The university also regularly coordinates ag-related events offsite. Examples of annual events include Indiana’s Small Farm Conference at Hendricks County Fairgrounds in Danville, as well as the Midwest Women in Agriculture conference at the Horizon Convention Center in Muncie, about a two-hour drive from campus.  

Ohio State University, College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

Columbus, Ohio

On-campus: Ohio State University’s Blackwell Inn and Pfahl Conference Center is ideal for ag-alumni overcome with Buckeye nostalgia. The 151-room facility has tiered meeting rooms and is steps away from Ohio Stadium. Another option is the Nationwide and Ohio Farm Bureau 4-H Center, a new building located at the gateway of the university. It features nearly 12,000 square feet of conference and classroom facilities, flexible multipurpose meeting space and banquet seating for 275 people in the auditorium.

Off-campus: Less than a 30-minute drive away is the university’s Molly Caren Agricultural Center, a 2,100-acre facility that is home to the Farm Science Review each September. The facility has a 67-acre conservation area with an all-season cabin for agriculture and natural resource meetings and is nearly equally distant from the Columbus and Dayton airports. Those looking for a downtown event can also check out the Greater Columbus Convention Center, a mere five minutes away from university amenities.

Greater Columbus Convention Center
Photo: Greater Columbus Convention Center; Courtesy of Property

University of Wisconsin-Madison, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Madison, Wisconsin

On-campus: University of Wisconsin-Madison’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) hosts a variety of ag-related events through its CALS Conference Services, such as the Wisconsin Agricultural Outlook Forum, and can work with meeting planners to create their ideal event either on-campus or off. The university also has two onsite conference centers, including the Pyle Center, which offers visitors 135,000 square feet of comfortable meeting spaces, rooftop terraces and lake views, along with the Lowell Center, which can accommodate up to 400 attendees and has 137 guest rooms.

Panel at UW-Madison
Photo: Panel at UW-Madison, courtesy of Michael P. King/UW–Madison CALS

Off-campus: Madison is home to multiple meeting and event venues, such as Monona Terrace, a convention center alongside Lake Monona and just two blocks from the State Capitol. Designed for easily accessibility, it offers a 68,000-square-foot rooftop garden that features views of Lake Monona and the downtown skyline. Nearly 1,000 hotel rooms are within walking distance of Monona Terrace, including 240 rooms at the adjacent Hilton Madison Monona Terrace. The Hilton features direct access to Monona Terrace in an enclosed, climate-controlled skywalk, and offers an additional 2,400 square feet of meeting space.

Read Next: Tech is Transforming Agriculture and Its Meetings