By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- Gov. Butch Otter told Idaho Farm Bureau Federation members he would like to eventually restore the $5 million in agricultural research funding that was cut during the economic downturn.
Faced with dwindling revenues, the state cut $5.69 million in funding to University of Idaho for ag research and extension the past several years. That amount doesn't include a one-time holdback of $7.3 million.
Addressing dozens of farmers and ranchers from across the state Dec. 4 during IFBF's annual conference, Otter said it was a goal of his to restore that funding.
At the governor's urging, the Idaho Legislature last year increased the university's $22.5 million ag research and extension budget by $300,000. But Otter wants the full amount restored.
"I feel obligated to try to get them whole because I see the great job they're doing," he said.
Otter noted that major ag companies, such as Nunhems, which moved its world headquarters to Idaho, came to the state in large part because of the top-notch university research system that exists here.
"I don't want that bet to go unrewarded," he said, calling ag research an investment in Idaho's future.
During the economic downturn, three UI research stations faced possible closure, including the 200-acre Parma Research and Extension Center in southwestern Idaho, which performs a wide variety of research.
IFBF, county Farm Bureaus, and other private industry groups formed a coalition that raised funding for the stations that helped keep them open.
Otter said those groups have done a great job of helping defer the cost of research and he singled out the partnerships that have allowed the Parma center to remain open.
The center receives about $80,000 a year from the Treasure Valley Ag Coalition and UI and J.R. Simplot Co. have a five-year agreement that provides the station with $1.5 million in exchange for giving Simplot access to 50 acres for field crop research.
Otter's comments were welcome news to Farm Bureau members, including Caldwell farmer Sid Freeman, whose question prompted the governor's remarks on ag research.
"There's too much riding on that Parma research center to close it," said Freeman. "You heard what he said: It's an investment for our future. It's a good business decision to get that (funding restored) as fully as possible.
"I understand he can't make any commitments, and we don't know how revenues are going to come in, but it's encouraging to know that's in the forefront of his mind," he said.