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U of I ag college gets $55 million grant

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

POCATELLO – University of Idaho’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences has received a massive $55 million grant to help Idaho farmers and ranchers voluntarily adopt agricultural practices to combat climate change.

The grant is twice as large as any other grant U of I has ever received.

Half of the money will we passed through to to farmers and ranchers who are willing to adopt certain “climate-smart” practices aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Loud applause erupted when CALS Dean Michael Parrella announced the grant Oct. 5 to a group of U of I supporters and alumni in Meridian.

“It’s almost earth-shaking in terms of its size; it’s the largest grant the campus has ever gotten,” he said. “It is a game-changer … It is absolutely phenomenal.”

Parrella pointed out that almost half the money will be passed through to agricultural producers to incentivize them to voluntarily adopt climate-smart agricultural practices.

“While this is a monumental achievement for our university, the big winners will be Idaho farmers and ranchers who are willing to try new approaches to producing food, with the goal of making their operations more sustainable and protecting the environment,” Christopher Nomura, U of I’s vice president of research and economic development, said in an Oct. 5 news release announcing the grant.

According to the news release, university researchers will use the grant money to focus on the state’s staple commodities, including potatoes, beef, sugar beets, wheat, barley, hops and chickpeas.

Farmers and ranchers will be eligible for payments to adopt a host of possible agricultural practices aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, such as raising cover crops for soil health benefits, or reducing reliance on tillage.

The grant money, which was awarded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, could also be used by producers to adopt certain water quality and quantity practices.

Idaho’s Natural Resources Conservation Service office will work with growers to pass grant dollars through to people who adopt those types of practices.

Curtis Elke, the state conservationist for NRCS in Idaho, said there are about 60 such conversation practices that producers could adopt as part of the grant.

NRCS will work with U of I “in getting these monies on the ground in the best interests of our farmers and ranchers out there,” he told Idaho Farm Bureau Federation Oct. 5 following Parrella’s presentation to U of I supporters.

“It’s a super, super exciting opportunity not just for the University of Idaho but for our farmers and ranchers out there who are trying to make Idaho even more productive and better in agriculture,” Elke said. “It’s a huge opportunity.”

The grant project will be led by Jodi Johnson-Maynard, head of the U of I Department of Soil and Water Systems, and Sanford Eigenbrode, a distinguished professor in the university’s Department of Entomology, Plant Pathology and Nematology.

“This project will allow us to pilot a program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a way that meets the market demands for sustainably produced products while benefiting our farmers,” Johnson-Maynard said in the U of I press release.

Eigenbrode said that “A lot of companies big and small see the handwriting on the wall – that the need for a climate-friendly pipeline is not going away, and if they’re staying competitive in the industry, they’ve got to get on board.”