A conversation with… Chris Henney, President/CEO – Ohio AgriBusiness Association

Chris Henney

OCJ: First, could you tell us a little bit about your background, particularly with regard to agriculture?

Chris: I have a broad background, having spent time in urban, suburban and rural environments. Most of my youth was spent on a small family farm in southeastern Delaware County, Ohio. I was involved in 4-H and FFA and raised, trained and showed POA ponies as a teenager. After graduating from Big Walnut High School and spending a year in France as a Rotary foreign exchange student, I attended The Ohio State University where I majored in agricultural education with a minor in animal sciences. Following graduation I went to work for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation as an Organization Director in eastern Ohio. After almost six years working in the field, I moved into OFBF’s state office where I served as the director of agricultural ecology programs. I later served as director of policy development and director of legislative relations. Also during this time I attended Capital University and earned a masters degree in business administration.

OCJ: OABA fills a number of important roles in Ohio agriculture. Could you provide a brief outline of these roles?

Chris: The Ohio AgriBusiness Association is a membership-based state trade association that can trace its history from 1880. The mission of OABA is to promote an active, profitable and environmentally sensitive professional agribusiness industry by identifying and addressing emerging issues important to its members. Our membership includes the manufacturers, and wholesale/retail suppliers of plant nutrients and plant protection materials; the grain warehousing and marketing industry; the feed industry; the seed industry; companies providing equipment, financing, insurance, consulting and other products and/or services for the agribusiness industry.

OABA provides its members with educational training, industry information, membership services and government representation. OABA also manages an educational trust, which is the educational and charitable arm of the association and provides scholarship assistance to students pursuing agribusiness curriculum.

OCJ: Of these roles, which do you feel will be the most valuable in the coming years? Why?

Chris: There are two very important roles that OABA must play in the future. Educational programming is one. OABA offers a number of educational programs throughout the year for its members. These include Grain Day and sponsorship of grain grading schools, a crop production conference, safety programs and more. The resources we provide through these educational workshops fill an important niche for our smaller members. It is important that we not only continue to provide our members with these opportunities, but look for additional activities that will benefit our membership.

Second is government representation. It is crucial in this day and age to be ever vigilant when it comes to legislative and regulator activity. Agriculture and agribusiness is Ohio’s number one industry, but too often legislation and regulation make it extremely difficult to maintain and grow a business. We want to see Ohio agribusiness prosper over the coming years and it is important that we have a business climate that is conducive to that kind of growth. Ultimately all Ohioans will benefit.

OCJ: What other important services does OABA offer its members?

Chris: The opportunity to participate and hold leadership positions within the association is very important. Through our committees and boards, member employees have an excellent opportunity to gain or enhance their leadership experience.

Of course we also have a whole host of member benefits, which adds significant value to the membership. One of the most beneficial is probably our relationship with Asmark. Asmark is a non-profit organization dedicated exclusively to serving agribusiness regulatory needs.

OCJ: How has your transition into your new position been thus far?

Chris: The transition has gone extremely well so far. I’m fortunate to have my predecessor, Gary King, around to help guide me during these initial months. Gary led OABA for over 20 years and has a wealth of institutional knowledge that has been invaluable. In addition, OABA has a great board of directors and leadership team. Herb Mayer of Trupointe Cooperative is currently serving as the board Chairman. Herb and I have developed a great rapport. We also have a great Vice-Chair right now, Jill Boyd of the Morral Companies, LLC.

OCJ: What have been the surprises as you have taken over the helm of the OABA?

Chris: I was not fully aware of the size and scope of the Ohio AgriBusiness Educational Trust. It is quite an endeavor and funds about $25,000 in scholarships each year for college students studying agribusiness related fields. OABA also administers the Greenleaf Agri-Industry Award, which is provided by George Greenleaf who is one of my predecessors. It is really exciting to be able to continue this great tradition and have a positive impact on so many young people. Many of our scholarship recipients have gone on to become actively involved in the association as young professionals.

OCJ: What do you foresee as the greatest challenges ahead for the OABA?

Chris: Over the years there have been a number of mergers and acquisitions in agribusiness. As consolidation occurred membership demographics have changed. It is important to ensure the association continues to meet the needs of its members. OABA is beginning a strategic planning process this summer. My immediate challenge is to help guide the plan and then, of course, to implement it. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to help shape the future of the association. There is so much potential out there!

OCJ: How will you address those challenges?

Chris: In addition to the strategic planning process, we are also going to be looking at new methods for generating revenue in addition to membership dues; this will allow the association to provide even stronger member programs and representation.

OCJ: What do you enjoy about your new position?

Chris: I’m so fortunate to be able to work in the agricultural industry here in Ohio. My new position enables me to continue down that path while providing me with a breadth of new opportunities. I really enjoy the variety of the job, but most importantly, I get to work with some of the best people around!

OCJ: What are your plans for the future of OABA?

Chris: Our strategic planning process this summer will help determine our future plans for OABA, but I think it is safe to say that we will be looking to strengthen a couple of key areas. Most notably will be our legislative and regulatory engagement on behalf of our members. We also will be growing our members’ educational opportunities; these have traditionally been workshops and training seminars for agribusiness employees. We want to look at how we can partner with others who might benefit from these activities as well.

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