Champaign County forms new group to connect farmers, businesses

The two have created the Champaign County Ag Association, which will hold the first of what are planned to be monthly lunch meetings from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 4 at the Champaign County Community Center, 1512 S. U.S. 68 in Urbana.

“The goal is to connect the agribusiness community and farmers with the non-ag businesses,“ said Amanda Douridas, an agriculture educator at the Extension Office. “Champaign County has such a large agricultural presence. But there’s not a group that does that right now.”

The Farm Bureau does a good job of this on the state and federal levels, she said, but not so much at the local level.

“People not involved in agriculture are curious about it,” Douridas said. “They are curious about how food is grown and delivered. This can help in that way, too.”

Sandy Arnold, the chamber’s executive director, said there was an ag association formed in nearby Union County recently. Liz Funderburgh, that group’s president, also has close ties to Champaign County and helped the local chamber get the idea off the ground, she added.

“All chambers should be looking around to see what best practices are, and this was one of those that was brought to us,” Arnold said.

Agriculture already has a large presence within chamber circles, she said, and this effort’s goal is to build off that strong foundation.

“Through our networking events and our representation on our board, we cover quite a number of diverse sectors in our community and we’re very proud of that,“ Arnold said. “People don’t have to look very far to see that the top two contributors to our economy are manufacturing and agriculture. Four of our 12 board members have agriculture connections.”

Tom Tullis, an Urbana farmer for more than a half century and long-time member of the Champaign County Fair Board, likes the plan.

“It would definitely be pretty helpful on different issues,” Tullis said.

One of the top ones is water quality, he said.

“It’s not a big issue now, but we don’t want it to become a big issue,“ he said. “If you can stop it before it starts, that‘s always good. It could be big, especially for the farmer who has livestock.

A related issue would be air quality, Tullis said, including odors from livestock buildings.

“It all goes together,” he said.

The community at large is pretty aware of the impact agricultural has on the economy, Tullis said, and area farmers and business already have a good relationship.

“Right now, I don’t feel there is a problem,“ he said. “But I don’t think you can over-communicate. After it becomes a problem, it is harder to get worked out.”

The chamber hasn’t had much feedback yet on how popular this new initiative will be, Arnold said.

“We’re just really looking forward to the public meeting, to see what interest is shown at that event,” she said.

The free lunch meeting will be held in Conference Room B. Subsequent meetings are slated for the first Friday of each month. To RSVP, contact Douridas at 937-484-1526 or Douridas.9@osu.edu.

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