BOISE — The University of Idaho’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences is pursuing an aggressive plan to invest tens of millions of dollars in its nine agricultural research and extension centers.
Those centers house the people that conduct research on a wide variety of crops grown in the state and seek solutions to production challenges faced by the state’s farmers and livestock producers.
UI hopes to invest about $25 million in the centers in the coming years, CALS Dean Michael Parrella told members of the House Agricultural Affairs Committee Feb. 28.
The average age of the facilities at those centers is 50 years, he said.
“What we need going forward is a $25 million investment in our R and E centers,” Parrella said.
He told Capital Press later the plan “is an investment in the future of the state. Agriculture is 20 percent of Idaho’s GDP, it’s a critical industry and it’s important to all aspects of our economy.”
Parrella has told ag industry leaders at least twice in the past month that he is not the dean of CALS to maintain the status quo and that he wants to aggressively move the college forward.
The plan that Parrella outlined for lawmakers in broad strokes would do that.
He said with a lot of researchers and faculty set to retire in the coming years, CALS will be hiring a lot of “early career professionals,” and “we need the type of facilities to attract them and keep them.”
He said “modern, ‘clean’ and appropriately equipped” laboratories are required to do the type of cutting edge research that will be critical to the state’s farming industry in the near future.
Parrella said he envisions the funds that will be needed to accomplish this plan emerging from a three-way partnership between CALS, the farm industry and the legislature.
“I don’t want to imply that we are not investing in our R and E centers because we are doing that,” he said. “We as a college will contribute as much as we can but I think the industry is going to have to step up and help.”
He said that when it comes time to approach legislators about helping fund some of the investments, it’s important “that we’re not just coming with our hand out, that we have some skin in the game, so to speak.”
CALS’ effort to engage industry on the plan will officially begin March 8 with a visioning session at UI’s Parma research station.
Parrella told Capital Press he hopes to form a group “where we bring all the (farm) commodity commissioners together and we talk about what the R and E centers are doing, what their needs are and maybe we come up with (a plan).”
The chairwoman of the House ag committee, Rep. Judy Boyle, a Republican rancher from Midvale, said having the latest research infrastructure is critical to the state’s farming industry.
“It’s vital and agriculture is vital to Idaho so I think it’s a worthwhile goal,” she said of CALS’ plan to invest in the research centers.