BOISE — Lawmakers increased the University of Idaho’s agricultural research and extension budget by $1.51 million for fiscal year 2015 and some of that money will almost immediately benefit the state’s potato and barley industries.
Lawmakers agreed by a combined vote of 98-2 to appropriate $26.5 million to UI’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences’ ag research and extension service budget.
About $1.2 million will be used to cover operational expenses at CALS’ nine agricultural research and extension stations across the state and to do maintenance deferred by a $5.7 million reduction in ongoing state money the ag college sustained during the recession.
The rest will be used to hire a barley agronomist and to fund a potato pathology position that was being financed by grant money, and to fund two staff positions to support those researchers.
Rich Garber, director of industry and government relations for CALS, said the potato pathologist will focus on efforts to control and eradicate pale cyst nematode.
The microscopic pest, which can significantly reduce yields, was first detected in east Idaho in 2006. Millions of dollars in industry, state and federal money has been spent since then trying to eradicate it.
“It’s an extremely serious issue and we’ve been able to keep it under control with our work, but it’s an ongoing challenge and we need some additional focus on it to hopefully eradicate it from Idaho,” Garber said.
Idaho Potato Commission President and CEO Frank Muir said the two potato research positions were previously funded through grant money.
“Rather than living and dying on grant money … it makes these two positions a permanent part of UI staff,” he said. “This is very important. It creates more of a permanent long-term solution to funding the research needed to battle PCN.”
Muir said the research done by UI scientists on the issue has been critical to the industry.
“In order to defeat your enemy, you have to understand how your enemy functions. That’s what their research has been helping us do,” he said.
The barley agronomist will focus on water use, fertilization, disease and pest management, increased yields and “all the agronomic issues that go along with barley production,” Garber said.
Tackling the agronomic issues barley growers face is the Idaho industry’s top priority, said Idaho Barley Commission Administrator Kelly Olson.
When barley growers agreed to fund a $1 million permanent research endowment with UI last year, CALS made a commitment to create, fill and support the barley agronomist position immediately, Olson said.
The industry and university already have a draft work plan ready so that scientist can start work immediately, said Olson, who anticipates the researcher will arrive in time to begin work during the 2014 cropping year.
She said that blueprint is “all about barley crop management and researching ways to optimize barley competitiveness and economic sustainability.”