By Sean Ellis
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation
PARMA – The dean of University of Idaho’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences has proposed a $7 million plan to renovate U of I’s Parma ag research station and add four new research positions.
The university’s Parma Research and Extension Center in southwestern Idaho conducts research on multiple crops, including beans, potatoes, onions, hops mints, tree fruit, wine and table grapes, cereals and seed crops.
During a meeting with more than 30 agricultural industry leaders and representatives Feb. 21, CALS Dean Michael Parrella said the plan is to continue that work and he pointed out that the research conducted at the Parma station benefits every farmer in the state, not just the Treasure Valley.
The modernized Parma research center is “going to be something that benefits all of Idaho agriculture,” Parrella told members of the Treasure Valley Ag Coalition, a group that formed in 2009 to save the Parma center when it was slated for closure. “We are not changing the research mission of the Parma station. We’re going to add to the work already being done here.”
TVAC members, who represent a wide swath of the state’s farming sector, voted unanimously to rename their group the Idaho Agriculture Research and Extension Coalition (IDAREC). The new name was purposely chosen to reflect that the research that will be done at the rebuilt Parma station will benefit all sectors of the state’s farming community.
The modernized facility would include new graduate student housing, updated labs and equipment, new greenhouses and four new positions: an Extension fruit and viticulture specialist, a weed scientist, an irrigation and soil scientist and a pollination scientist.
That would bring the total number of research faculty at the Parma center to 10 and they would study everything from bugs and weeds to water and soil, said IDAREC member Margie Watson.
“Every farmer in the state of Idaho deals with all of those components,” she said.
Many of the facilities at the Parma station and Idaho’s other eight ag research and extension centers are over 50 years old and the centers are in substantial need of modernized infrastructure and equipment, Parrella said.
The dean said the university plans to refurbish all of its ag research stations.
The goal to modernize U of I’s Parma research center “is not diminishing any of the other R and E centers,” Parrella said. “The plan is to enhance all of the centers and we are going to start at Parma.”
Parrella admitted the timeline to complete the project is ambitious: the university hopes to break ground on the project in the fall of 2020.
The funding would come from the university, the state legislature and Idaho’s agricultural industry and Parrella likened the funding effort to a three-legged stool.
“None of us can do it by ourselves but collectively we can combine resources and do it,” he said. “We need all three legs of that stool to come together. If everybody contributes, we can do this.”
“This is an unprecedented attempt to pool resources for the common good; you all would benefit from the expansion of this facility,” Parrella said. “All of Idaho benefits from the expansion of this facility.”
IDAREC Chairman Jon Watson said the university and committee members would immediately begin contacting industry to rally support for the project.
People who were at the meeting said later they were excited by Parrella’s vision and they agreed with him that the goal of raising funds for the facility from industry was possible, especially if a large number of industry groups and members chipped in.
“I think it’s doable,” said Mike Goodson, a farmer who is also a commissioner with the Idaho Bean Commission.
But Goodson and others also said that farm groups and commissions are going to have to see a solid plan first and be convinced the project will benefit all of Idaho agriculture.
“For me as a grower, I’d be willing to support that effort,” Goodson said. “As a commissioner, I will need to see a plan and have a little more dialogue with the university about it.”
“It’s an exciting plan,” said Bob Simerly, an agronomist and IDAREC member. “I think it’s attainable.”