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CHAMPAIGN — Nutrien, a publicly traded Canadian fertilizer and agricultural sales company, has approached Champaign County officials about developing an agronomic research facility on 300 acres east of University of Illinois Willard Airport.

Plans call for the facility to include a large digital hub to coordinate worldwide agronomic research and a visitor training center with a demonstration hall that could hold up to 400 people, according to John Hall, Champaign County’s zoning administrator.

“It’s going to be bringing people into Champaign County, as far as I’ve been told, multiple times a year,” he said.

The proposed site, about two miles east of the airport and U.S. 45 along the Philo Slab, is zoned Ag-1, and the county would need to approve some zoning-related changes for the development to move ahead.

The first step — endorsed Thursday by the county board’s Environment and Land Use Committee — would be approving a change in the county’s zoning ordinance to allow an agronomic research and training facility as a special use under the current zoning.

That zoning text amendment is going to the county’s Zoning Board of Appeals for consideration and public hearing in May, and would ultimately need to be approved by the full county board — with the soonest possibility for that to happen being Aug. 19, according to Hall.

Nutrien would then need to apply to the county for the special use permit, he said.

More details about the proposed project will be presented to the Zoning Board of Appeals, according to Environment and Land Use Committee Chairman Eric Thorsland.

Nutrien describes itself as the world’s largest provider of crop inputs and services.

It produces and distributes more than 25 million tons of potash, nitrogen and phosphate products for agricultural, industrial and feed customers worldwide, and its agricultural retail network serves over 500,000 grower accounts.

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