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Column: Collaborating on agricultural and natural resource research

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s visit to the University of Idaho highlights the relationship between land-grant universities and the USDA.

By Chuck Staben

For the Capital Press

Published on July 6, 2018 8:30AM

University of Idaho president Chuck Staben

Matthew Weaver/Capital Press File

University of Idaho president Chuck Staben

Recently in Idaho we celebrated a number of important anniversaries, among them the Fourth of July, of course, and Idaho Day, on July 3, which commemorated the anniversary of statehood. A lesser-known anniversary, though, occurred on July 2. That day in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act, creating the land-grant university system and presaging the 1889 birth of U of I and our statewide research enterprise.

Land-grant universities like the University of Idaho have a special mission to work toward “the benefit of agriculture and the mechanic arts.” Through the years, a collaborative relationship between land-grant schools and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has helped seed our nation’s robust agricultural economy with the innovation and discovery that occurs at institutions like U of I. So, it was a meaningful and gratifying privilege to have U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue visit the Palouse on July 2 and learn more about U of I’s research mission.

Accompanied by Governor Otter, Lieutenant Governor Little and Idaho Secretary of Agriculture Gould, I was proud to show Secretary Perdue a university deeply engaged in impactful research that helps build a better future for our state and world. We appreciated the chance to show him our Moscow campus and engage in discussions about university projects and current work. We specifically highlighted our proposed Idaho Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment, as well as our Idaho Central Credit Union Arena project.

In the Idaho CAFE project, U of I intends to build the nation’s largest research dairy. Dairy and food processing are booming businesses in Idaho and increasingly in the West — Idaho is now No. 3 nationwide in milk production, and processors like Glanbia and Chobani, recruited to our state, have significant presences. In a western landscape with some natural resource constraints, that growth presents opportunities and challenges. The University of Idaho is well-positioned to do what land-grant institutions do best: Take on proactive research projects at scale where industries and other stakeholders cannot, and share those findings with partners to promote sustainable economic development. The governor and the legislature have supported this project with an initial $10 million commitment, and we are continuing to make strong fundraising progress, with welcome support from key groups and individuals.

We also shared with Secretary Perdue our plans for the Idaho Central Credit Union Arena, a standalone basketball arena and events space on a campus that last built such a facility in the 1920s. The arena we envision is built with mass-timber construction, on a scale and quality unseen so far in the United States. This arena will be a home for Vandal excellence and a proudly “Idaho” building — a showcase for the potential of mass-timber construction that makes responsible use of our sustainable natural resources. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s purview includes the U.S. Forest Service, and we were encouraged to have the interest of Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen when she learned about the project during a recent trip to Moscow. There is great potential for collaboration.

A land-grant research university depends on collaboration — with state and federal agencies, with industries, and with communities. We have common goals for promoting the best possible life and health of our economy and citizenry. We appreciate the opportunity to demonstrate to Secretary Perdue how a land-grant institution delivers results on such partnerships. There is a proud research heritage at land-grant schools, but at the University of Idaho, we’re just as interested in cultivating a bright future.

Chuck Staben is president of the University of Idaho.


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