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New Industry Group hopes to show impact of agribusiness has in Wichita.
Wichita Business Journal, July 29, 2005. Written by Jerry Siebenmark


When Curtis Wiltse was laid off as manager of seed quality and purity issues for Monsanto Co. in St. Louis two years ago, he went looking for a job elsewhere in the agribusiness industry.
The job search, he says, would have been a lot easier had he belonged to the St. Louis Agri-Business Club. He had thought about joining, but didn’t want to make the time commitment.
“After having your position eliminated you wish you had those contacts,” says Wiltse, who now lives in Wichita and works as a territory manager for Redball, LLC, a Minnesota manufacturer of farm sprayers and related equipment.
Wiltse and others in agribusiness have formed a new organization aimed in part at helping them build that network of contacts.
The new group, Agri-Business Council of Wichita, will officially kick-off next month as part of the Kansas Farm Bureau’s 30th Annual Governor’s Farm and Ranch Tour in Sedgwick County.
But the group is more than just about networking. Its biggest role is to raise awareness among city, county, state and federal elected officials of the impact agribusiness has in the Wichita area, as well as the effects the decisions they make will have on that industry.

Getting business done

Wiltse is one of a handful of people and organizations behind the idea of the Agri-Business Council, which began taking shape in February and has had monthly meetings since March.
The council has about 20 members that comprise businesses, associations and people.
The council’s officers are: Curtis Wiltse, chairman; Ed Frey of Farm Credit, vice chairman; Sandy Scripter of Cargill, secretary-treasurer; and Sandy Rogers of KFB, program committee chairwoman.
Other companies involved in the formation of the group are: AgraPlacements, Ltd.; Armstrong/Shank Advertiseing; High Plains Journal; Kansas Livestock Association: Kansas State University Research and Extension; Kennedy and Coe LLC; Monsanto; SER Corp. and United BioEnergy.
“We had been talking about if this is even feasible in Sedgwick County and we’re now to the roll-out point of that plan,” says Terry Holdren, KFB’s policy director.
The new organization will not compete with KFB’s Sedgwick County Farm Bureau, which Holdren says focuses on producers – farmers and ranchers – rather than the various businesses that support agriculture such as banks and equipment makers.
Holdren and Wiltse say they believe agribusiness is big business in the Wichita area. But they don’t have the data to support that. The Agri-Business Council hopes to become a clearing-house for information on the number of people employed in agribusiness, the companies involved in that industry and the economic impact on the Wichita area.
That kind of data will be helpful, they say, when they are working with elected officials in shaping policy or addressing concerns about legislation.
“I’ll be honest, I don’t know who all these people are, but that’s the goal, to unite all of these people so we have a strong voice together,” Wiltse says.
Officials from the Agricultural Business Council of Kansas City, a 105-member group that formed in October 2003, have been advising local council officials in the start-up.
Gina Bowman-Morrill, chairwoman and co-founder of the Kansas City group, says the biggest draw has been the networking opportunities it offers, although it’s staying focused on building relationships with state and congressional legislators and putting a good face on agribusiness.
“If you surveyed our members, the opportunity to network and get business done (with each other) is probably the greatest value to them,” Bowman-Morrill says.
The Wichita Council’s official launch is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 31 at Eberly Farm, 13111 W. 21st. Wiltse says 260 people have been invited to attend.

Reach Jerry Siebenmark at 266-6192 or on the Web at jsiebenmark@bizjournals.com.