Wayne Carlin, Dona Tullis (representing her late husband past OCA president, David), Fred Dailey, Jim Rentz, and Gene Hitchcock were recognized by OCA president Tom Karr for their contributions to the early years of the Ohio Beef Expo to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the event.

Ohio Beef Expo celebrates 35 years

By Joel Penhorwood and Matt Reese

In the 35 years since its first installment, Ohio Beef Expo has made a place for itself on the national stage. The 2023 event had a packed trade show, full parking lots and broken attendance records with cattlemen of all ages coming to Columbus for the premier event for beef producers in the Midwest, and among the top in the country.

“It’s the 35th anniversary. It’s really hard to believe, but it is so gratifying to see how far it’s come in those 35 years,” said Elizabeth Harsh, executive director of the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association which coordinates the Ohio Beef Expo. “The Beef Expo does not have one big event, but we have multiple really great events and there’s no doubt about it that our trade show has become the envy of any Beef Expo anywhere. We really appreciate all those folks who think that it’s the most productive use of their time and their business of any trade show they go to, but it’s also the breed sales and all those breeding cattle. There were nine breed sales this year and we sell seed stock into about 25 states each year. And then the added plus, that we didn’t have at the beginning of the Beef Expo, is the whole junior component. Now it’s the last and the grand finale, if you will, of our BEST show series program.”

Taylor Poff from Geauga County gets a handshake from the judge for her fourth overall finish in the 2023 Ohio Beef Expo junior heifer show. Photo by Kamryn Kreis with Linde’s Livestock Photos.

The Ohio Beef Expo attracts an annual attendance of around 30,000 people and includes nearly 1,600 head of cattle at the various sales and shows. The 2023 Expo featured a sold-out trade show with over 150 vendors. The nine breed sales with a combined total of 331 live lots sold at an average of $3,739 and a total gross sales of $1,237,600. 

Breed sales continue to be a highlight of the Ohio Beef Expo.

The Judging contest, coordinated with the Ohio State University, had nearly 550 youth participants that judged six classes of cattle, answered questions and evaluated breed data sheets. In the Junior Division the Top Team was Wood County Jr A consisting of team members Jocelyn Belleville, Claire Lampe, Ella Patterson and Gavin Richards. The top junior individual was Audrey Hoffman of Ashland County. In the Senior Division the Top Team was Wood County Sr A consisting of team members Grant Belleville, Riley Burtchin, Sally Nietz and Lexi Perry. The top senior individual was Carly Sanders of Highland County.

The Junior Show set a record for the second straight year with over 950 entries. Showmanship was held Friday followed by the Market Animal show on Saturday and the Heifer show on Sunday. Junior Showmanship was judged by Darla and Kane Aegerter, IL, Market Animals were evaluated by Shane Meier, TX., and the Heifer show judge was Jason Hoffman, NE. 

Junior showmanship

The annual Friend of the Expo Awards were presented to Jenna Watson and Ben Butcher of Ag-Pro and Doug and Debbie Parke of DP Sales Management for their many contributions to the Expo’s success over the years. In addition The event also included a nod to its 35-year history. The following companies, breeders and individuals were recognized as 35-year participants: 

• Ag Net Communications – Ohio’s Country Journal & Ohio Ag Net 

• ADM Animal Nutrition 

• COBA/Select Sires, Inc. 

• Genex 

• Purina Animal Nutrition 

• White’s Show Supply

• Zoetis Animal Health 

• Byland Shorthorns, Ashland County 

• Fawley Farms – Kelly Hall, Highland County 

• Maple Valley Farm, Highland County 

• Rains Angus, Pennsylvania 

•John Regula 

“We took the opportunity to celebrate to recognize those trade show exhibitors as well as the breeders that have been with us for all 35 years. An added plus was actually including some of those folks that helped create it that were leaders within the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association. At that very same time we recognized some of those presidents in the 80s and the first Expo chairman as well,” Harsh said. “It took all of those brains coming together. It really did. We always say it’s like a family. You’ve got to have everybody get along — all the parts — to make it successful. I just enjoy seeing cattlemen and the families that maybe you only see once a year at the Beef Expo because this event brings them out.”

The Ohio Beef Expo started in 1988 and has been held at the Ohio Expo Center in Columbus each year. The event was started to bring various cattle breed sales together in one place. 

“The reason this all started was back in the day, every weekend, we would work a different breed sale from March until planting time. The idea was to bring all those sales under one roof on one day. That was the premise of the whole Beef Expo and then the shows became a part of it and then the trade show,” said Johnny Regula, auctioneer, who was on the committee for the first Beef Expo. “The first year I remember it was cold. It was miserable. It was rainy, snowy, sleet and I told my dad, ‘You know this will never fly.’ And gee whiz here we are 35 years later and it’s the premier show of the all the expos in the country. We based this off of Iowa, that was the first one to have a Beef Expo. This show is all based off of what they did and now we have surpassed them by many times. In the industry, we don’t get the chance to showcase production agriculture enough in my view. This is the real deal at Beef Expo. These are the farms that bring their production to offer other folks and they can successfully do that here.”

There were a couple of efforts prior to 1988 to get the event going, but bad weather and other challenges thwarted the first attempts.

“When we started it back in 1988, it was the third time they’d tried to do a beef expo. The first two didn’t go because of bad luck. I think one was the blizzard of ’78, so this was kind of the third strike. We wanted to make sure we did it right,” said Fred Dailey, former Ohio Department of Agriculture Director who was involved with early planning efforts for the Ohio Beef Expo. “The facilities weren’t the best, but each year it got a little bit better and it grew. Now it’s the place to be if you’re in the beef cattle business. I noticed that driving in this morning we had really arrived when I tried to find a parking spot and I saw acres and acres of cattle trailers parked here at the Ohio State Fairgrounds. I’m very proud of the growth and the good people that have been involved this. It’s a must stop if you’re in the cattle business. From a beef industry perspective, it’s kind of a one stop shopping operation. You can come in here and find breeding stock, the trade show is one of the best trade shows in the country and there’s so much available — whether it’s semen that you might want to use for your cow herd, cattle equipment, handling equipment, there’s just so much here. I’m just so proud to see how this evolved over the years.”

The trade show at Beef Expo is the best in the country.

All agree that the beginnings for the Ohio Beef Expo left plenty of room for improvement.

“Well, the first thing I’d say is we didn’t have the facilities that they have here today,” said Jim Rentz, the first chairman of the Ohio Beef Expo. “We didn’t have this type of facility and so we had to move the trade show around to three different locations on the grounds to get it going. We ended up down at the swine barn and had temporary heaters in a makeshift area to break up the cold air. I think that first year we had over 10,000 people — now there’s 20,000 or 30,000 — but the people fairgrounds were not expecting anything that big. Our biggest problem was to get things done with the fair and the facilities.”

After years of the Beef Expo making the most of inadequate facilities, Governor George Voinovich appointed Dailey as Director of Agriculture. Dailey pushed for funding new facilities at the Ohio Expo Center and Gov. Voinovich agreed to a nearly $7 million investment in a top tier new multi-use facility for cattle and horses. This Voinovich Livestock and Trade Center with 70,000 square feet of meeting space, seating for 1,400 and a large trade show area was a game changer for the Ohio Beef Expo when it was completed in 1995, Rentz said.    

“It just took off. We had a lot of help from a lot of good people on our committee. It just got bigger and bigger. It’s just been a great to see it grow,” Rentz said. “Then we added the junior show, which is growing. They set up quite a good program for the juniors and, of course, we need those juniors because they’re going to be seniors someday. I look around and I see young people involved and now their kids are even showing. It’s been a combination of all these things that have helped make this successful. It’s great to have this facility, which has helped immensely, but the Cattlemen’s staff and the board have worked hard on this. Even when I was still there in that fifth year, Iowa was the lead Expo and they called and they said, ‘Well what are you guys doing? Because we’ve got people coming to us saying we like Ohio better.’ So, we did, and we’re doing, something right.”

For more from the 2023 Ohio Beef Expo, visit ohiobeefexpo.com.

Elizabeth Harsh with OCA president Tom Karr

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