As I head out to Atlanta for the 2020 International Production & Processing Expo (IPPE), there are many things to which I look forward.

I look forward to meeting up with friends and colleagues I haven’t seen in a while. I look forward to learning new trends and developments in the industry, and I look forward to providing news coverage about things I learned at IPPE.

But I can no longer ignore the elephant in the room. There is something else I enjoy about IPPE and other expos: I really like the booths on the show floors that offer swag carrying companies’ brands or logos. There, I said it.

With 573,000 square feet of exhibit space, companies involved with the poultry, feed and meat industries have booth after booth, and many of those companies are more than eager to give away small items that promote the company. There is a lot of cool stuff. However, I know to show restraint when people are offering such goods.

There, however, tends to be one exception. I love baseball caps, and I see no sense in buying them when free ones are available. I know my wife wishes I had a few less caps, but I once almost got some sort of validation when I returned from a recent show with one and she said: “That’s our school colors. You can wear that to ball games and track meets.”

Small victory, but I’ll take it.

There are typically only eight occasions in which I am not wearing a baseball cap:

  1. When I am wearing a cowboy hat
  2. When I am in the shower
  3. When I am sleeping
  4. When I am in church
  5. When I am getting a haircut
  6. When I am saluting the American flag at a parade, ball game or rodeo (but my cap or hat is being held over my heart)
  7. When I am at the table at mealtime (sometimes I forget)
  8. When I am at work-related meetings (again, sometimes I forget)

And when you spend as much time outside as I do, doing things that cause you to get your clothes dirty or torn, it makes sense to have a few spare caps around.

I know I’m not alone in my fixation with free caps. If you ever read the FarmTalk newspaper, based in southeastern Kansas, back in the 1990s, you might remember the FarmTalk Top 10 lists. They were David Letterman-inspired lists with an agrarian angle. One week, the topic was something to the effect of “Top 10 things you’ll never hear a farmer say.” The No. 1 thing on that list was: “No thank you. I have plenty of caps.”

I literally laughed out loud because it was so true.

Right or wrong?

One thing I have wondered is should I really be collecting these caps?

The struggle is real.

Some could say it maybe isn’t professional. I disagree. Pretending you are someone you aren’t is unprofessional. And my authentic self loves caps!

But should a journalist, who should remain impartial, be running around a trade show with a cap displaying animal nutrition company A’s logo, when companies B, C, D and E have representatives there. No. But is it O.K. for a journalist to wear that cap while outside trimming trees, fixing fence or feeding horses on his own property? Of course it is.

Is it ethical for a journalist who should remain impartial to accept gifts? Not if it is accepted as part of a deal for glowing coverage. But most in the trade say there isn’t anything wrong with a small token as long as its monetary value is under a certain amount. Ball caps would fall under that amount. Then there’s the fact that they are giving these things away anyway, so I’d guess no real thought is given to who receives them.

Now, is it O.K. for someone who already has more caps than they can wear to take one while at an ag expo? No. Don’t be greedy. Leave them for people who will wear them. I’ve pretty well hit my quota and told my wife I won’t gather any new ones unless I discard one of my older, dirtier caps.

It is also worth mentioning that when you gather caps, you are actually doing the people at expo booths a favor. That means there is less for them to pack up and take home. So, if you see me pick up a cap at your booth at IPPE, just keep in mind, I’m partially doing it for you.

No matter what side of the booth you are on, have a great IPPE!