PARMA, Idaho — A $1.5 million agreement between University of Idaho’s Parma research station and J.R. Simplot Co. is heading into its fifth and final year and talks have begun to discuss renewing it.
Officials from both parties stopped short of saying the agreement would definitely be renewed but they made it clear they’ve been very happy with the partnership.
“I think everybody involved feels like it’s been very worthwhile,” said Mike Thornton, superintendent of the Parma station.
The Parma research and extension center was targeted for possible closure five years ago after the state reduced ongoing funding to UI’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences by more than $5 million.
The money the station receives from the university pays the salaries of faculty. All other expenses such as staff pay, power bills and day-to-day operational costs are paid through the Simplot agreement.
“The original plan was to close the station if we couldn’t find alternative sources of funding, so I think it’s fair to say we would have been closed without that money,” Thornton said.
The final year of the agreement begins in January.
Top UI officials were guarded when asked whether the agreement would be renewed in its current form but were explicit that they were pleased with the pact.
“We’ve been very happy with the agreement and how it has played out over the last four years,” said Rich Garber, director of industry and governmental relations for CALS. “We’re looking forward to having conversations with Simplot about where we go in the future.”
Terry Tindall, Simplot’s senior agronomist, said he definitely supports renewing the agreement but the final outcome is in the hands of top-level company administrators.
“From my level, we’re very positive about the progress that has been made between J.R. Simplot Co. and the University of Idaho,” he said.
The Parma station does research on staple crops such as corn, alfalfa and wheat and specialty crops that are grown in southwestern Idaho such as hops, mint, sugar beets, onions, tree fruit and wine and table grapes.
Under the agreement, Simplot gives the research station $300,000 a year. In exchange, the agribusiness company gets access to 50 acres for field crop research.
Tindall, who directs Simplot’s research efforts around the globe, said the partnership “provides the opportunity for us to utilize the Parma station as an outdoor research laboratory to develop new and innovative materials.”
Besides allowing Simplot to do variety evaluations for corn and potatoes, the company has also been using the ground to study new drip-irrigated applications for onions.
Parma researchers have also conducted third-party research on products that Simplot needs unbiased information on.
“This unique relationship is really one of a kind that I know of in North America where private industry is working hand in hand with a third-party research group like the Parma station,” Tindall said.