PARMA, Idaho — A coalition of groups that represent the multiple specialty crops grown in the Treasure Valley area has received a prestigious award from the University of Idaho for its help in saving the university’s Parma Research and Extension Center.
John Foltz, dean of UI’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, presented the Dean’s Award to members of the Treasure Valley Agricultural Coalition April 28 in Moscow, Idaho.
The award, which is presented once a year at most, was given to TVAC for its long-term support of CALS, said Donn Thill, director of UI’s nine agricultural research stations.
After CALS’ research and extension budget was slashed by more than $5 million in 2009 in the midst of the recession, university officials proposed closing the Parma station.
The TVAC formed to save it and members provided $149,000 to the station over a three-year period beginning in 2010.
“They were absolutely instrumental in ensuring the continued operation of the Parma research center when it was slated for closure,” Thill said.
Jon Waton, president of J.C. Watson Co., a grower-packer-shipper onion business in Parma, said the station’s research has proven invaluable to farmers in southwestern Idaho.
“The station is very important to Treasure Valley agriculture and all the minor crops here,” he said.
The Parma station was virtually closed when all those groups got together, formed the coalition and came up with the money quickly, he said.
“It was heartbeats away from closing,” he said. “It was closed on paper.”
That money provided by TVAC members was for “bricks and mortar” stuff and beyond the funding specific commodity groups regularly give the station for specific research projects, Watson said.
Margie Watson, Jon Watson’s wife, was mayor of Parma at the time and said she understood how devastating the station’s closure would be to agriculture, which fuels Idaho’s economy.
Every farm commodity in the valley joined the TVAC and its members went straight to the governor with their request to spare the station, said Margie Watson, who spearheaded the effort.
“Every farm commodity in the valley rallied and raised the money (UI) said they needed to keep the doors open,” she said. “It was across the board. There was nobody that did not give. It was a grassroots effort by real people … who are involved in agriculture every day.”
Thill said the TVAC group has also provided important support of CALS’ annual research and extension appropriations request, as well as oversight of the Parma station’s expenditures to ensure its funding is maximized
That budget oversight model was used by UI to create a statewide budgetary oversight committee for all nine research stations.
The group also got Gov. Butch Otter to agree to a “5 in 5” pledge to restore the $5 million in state funding over a five-year period.
“Their support of the college, in my mind, has been immeasurable,” Thill said. “They have done great things for the college.”