Top farmers, ranchers honored 2016

Sheri Rayburn, right, receives congratulations from Susan Bunch after being awarded the Ag Woman of the Year award at the 2016 Union County Farmer Merchant Banquet. The Union County Chamber of Commerce canceled the popular annual event celebrating the ag community for 2020 due to the coronavirus.

LA GRANDE — The Union County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors has canceled the 2020 Farmer-Merchant Banquet.

The chamber in a press release stated the board made the difficult decision at its meeting in September.

"In light of the many restrictive COVID-19 Reopening Guidelines from the state of Oregon, which could make hosting a banquet highly infeasible, the board, in conjunction with the feedback from leaders of the agricultural community, agreed it was the best decision to cancel — and hopefully return in 2021 with the best banquet and program to date," according to the press release.

The board weighed alternative options and formats for recognizing and honoring the achievements of the agricultural community, such as video interviews with the award presenters and recipients. However, according to the press release, the members determined other options would not "adequately highlight and do justice to the important sense of community the banquet affords."

Darrin Walenta, agronomist at the Oregon State University Extension Office, commented in the release on how video interviews "cannot duplicate the true sense of community, accomplishment and engagement the banquet platform uniquely provides. … It just wouldn't be the same."

The primary goal of the banquet is to honor the ag community, said Mollie Hulse, chamber board president, in the release.

The chamber board reported it will explore creative ideas for hosting next year's award banquet — in whatever shape or format it will be — and is planning new ways to express gratitude for the hardworking members of the agricultural community in the interim.

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