BOISE – A plan to create the nation’s largest research dairy advanced Feb. 14 with the Idaho State Board of Education’s vote to allow the University of Idaho to buy land for the $45 million project.
The U of I and Idaho dairy industry-led effort will create the Idaho Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment, commonly referred to as CAFE. The project took a major step forward with the go-ahead to finalize the purchase of land in Minidoka County near Rupert.
According to a U of I news release, the university and Idaho Dairymen’s Association will jointly purchase 540 acres from members of the Whitesides family, who will in turn donate another parcel of land.
The university will pay $2.5 million and IDA will pay $2 million toward the purchase.
“Today’s vote and the support from the Idaho Dairymen’s Association moves Idaho agriculture a giant step forward in providing a transformational education and research opportunity,” said Michael Parrella, dean of the university’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. “With a site chosen and land acquired, we are confident this will accelerate the project.”
“For us, the focus is on the environmental aspect of the research and being able to meet consumer expectations,” said Rick Naerebout, chief executive officer for IDA.“That really is the major value and benefit of this facility we see as an industry, helping us meet those expectations and continuing to innovate in how we handle the manure produced on our facilities.”
IDA members first began working with U of I 15 years ago on this project and dedicated funding to the project a decade ago. Since then, Idaho’s dairy industry grew dramatically and now ranks third nationally in milk production.
Much of that growth took place in south central Idaho’s Magic Valley, principally in Jerome, Gooding, Twin Falls, Cassia and Minidoka counties.
U of I economists projected last month that milk sales in 2018 totaled $2.36 billion, a third of Idaho agriculture’s total cash receipts.
“One of our key focuses will be to have this dairy represent what this industry looks like in the West,” Naerebout said. “Being the largest research dairy in the country will help support the industry and put Idaho on the map as a premier location for environmental research.”
IDA will celebrate the progress on CAFE during its annual legislative banquet March 4 in Boise.
Brandon Whitesides, who is selling the property with his sister Stacey Jackson and father Brent, said the family’s goal is supporting the dairy industry.
As a student at Brigham Young University, Whitesides worked at the 500-cow university dairy there. BYU no longer operates that dairy, so the U of I effort will fill a vital educational need at the state and local level.
“There’s a big need for education. This will be a great thing for students from our area,” Whitesides said.
In meetings with Idaho legislators last month, Parrella outlined plans for CAFE that reach beyond the new research dairy. Those plans include an outreach and education center near the Interstate 84 and U.S. Highway 93 interchange and greater focus on food processing through a partnership with the College of Southern Idaho and its existing facilities.
In 2017, the Idaho Legislature appropriated $10 million from the state’s Permanent Building Fund to help finance the project with an additional $5 million investment anticipated as the project progresses.
“We have enjoyed strong support from Idaho’s elected leaders, businesses and others,” Parrella said. “Buying property will move us beyond talking about an idea to making it a reality.”