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U of I breaks ground on $14 million meat science facility

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

MOSCOW, Idaho – Construction is underway on a $14 million facility that will house University of Idaho’s meat science program and provide the space it needs to continue to grow.

Hundreds of people involved in the state’s livestock and meat industry attended an Oct. 14 groundbreaking ceremony for the new facility.

“Today’s crowd size is a real testament to the excitement for this project,” said Michael Parrella, dean of the university’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. “This is a transformational facility.”

The 12,750-square foot meat science laboratory will be four times the size of the current facility that houses the university’s meat science program.

It will be called the Meat Science and Innovation Center Honoring Ron Richard in honor of the man who is credited with building the program into what it is today.

The old facility, which is a USDA-inspected facility, was built in the 1960s.

The new one will be a modern meat processing facility designed to allow teaching, research, outreach, service and production to occur simultaneously, said U of I meat scientist Matthew Doumit, a senior associate dean at CALS.

“The facility will be incredible,” he said. “What happens inside will be even more special.”

He said the center will provide a space for youth, students and the community to learn about the livestock and meat industries and apply that knowledge. In addition, livestock producers in the region can have their animals processed there under USDA inspection, allowing them to direct-market their products.

Employees from all segments of the meat supply chain will train there.

“Cutting edge research in meat quality, safety and product innovation will happen here,” said Doumit, who helped grow the program along with Richard, who passed away five years ago.

Under Richard’s guidance, the program grew to new heights, Doumit said.

“What really became a limiter was the facility,” he said. “Our current facility really has one processing area. You really are limited in what you can do in that facility because of the antiquated design and spacing limitation as well. We’ve really grown the program and certainly outgrown the existing facility.”

The meat science program is currently doing great work at the old facility but the new one will allow that work to expand, Doumit said.

“This new facility will allow teaching, outreach, public service activities, industry workforce training and research to all happen at the same time essentially,” he said. “It’s going to be a magnificent facility.”

The U of I’s meat science program also provides a lot of outreach to industry. For example, since 2015 it has been conducting regular workshops for meat-cutters and meat processing workers employed by WinCo Foods.

“One of the major problems in the industry is finding well-trained people and keeping them engaged in the industry and that’s part of where we come in,” Doumit said.

University of Idaho meat science program graduates have a 100 percent job placement rate, according to the university.

Ron Richard was the face of U of I’s meat science program and Vandal Brands Meats for three decades. His presence has been felt in Idaho’s livestock and meat industry for many years, according to people involved in the industry.

Several of his family members attended the groundbreaking.

“Ron Richard shared a wealth of meat and livestock industry knowledge … with literally thousands of people, from youth at livestock shows or meat judging contests, to students, meat processors, livestock producers, community members and colleagues,” Doumit said. “He left a legacy of hard work, professionalism, innovation, mentoring, service, and Vandal pride that will continue to be hallmarks of the Meat Science and Innovation Center Honoring Ron Richard.”

“What I learned about meat science I learned in Ron’s class,” Jerome rancher Laurie Lickley, former president of the Idaho Cattle Association, said during the groundbreaking ceremony.

There are 8,100 cattle operations in Idaho and cattle and calves is the state’s No. 2 agricultural commodity in terms of total farm-gate revenue. Idaho has 2.5 million head of cattle and the state’s cattle and calves sector brought in a record $1.9 billion in farm-gate revenue in 2022.

“Today’s groundbreaking was merely a vision when I was president of the Idaho Cattle Association back in 2016 that today becomes a reality, and in honor of our dear friend Ron Richard,” Lickley said … “On behalf of Idaho’s ranching families and the entire beef industry, we say thank you.”

The new facility, which is slated to be completed in fall 2025, is located across from the university’s new Seed Potato Germplasm Laboratory.

“We’re standing here at the intersection of what I fondly refer to as ‘Meat and Potatoes Avenue’ … and who can’t get excited about meat and potatoes, a fundamental part of Idaho agriculture and our state’s economy,” Parrella said during the groundbreaking ceremony.