RUPERT, Idaho – University of Idaho personnel were busy last week collecting initial soil samples at the site of a planned research dairy to establish an environmental baseline for future research.

The 2,000-cow research dairy, with associated cropland, is part of the long-awaited Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment — a $45 million project.

About 700 samples and 4,000 pounds of soil were collected in 180 locations under one pivot section. Another 50 bulk density cores were also collected.

The task took three days and a lot of manpower, Linda Schott, University of Idaho nutrient and waste-management specialist said.

Thankfully, a lot of people came out to help, she said.

In addition to university faculty, research assistants and students, others pitched in — including nutrient-management specialists with Idaho Dairymen’s Association and Valley Agronomics, conservationists with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and students from the College of Southern Idaho.

The university also hired Stuckenholtz Laboratory to do much of the sampling, which made the job faster and more efficient and increased confidence in the sampling, Schott said.

“We want to assess the spatial variability of the site. That will help when we design the research studies,” she said.

It will allow researchers to account for variability across the field, she said.

The soil will be assessed for nutrients, porosity, bulk density and aggregate stability. It will also be assessed for biological properties, microbial community composition and microbial biomass.

In addition to establishing spatial variability, the sampling will assess the status of soil properties before the research site begins operations so researchers can measure change over time.

The university will also archive soil in case soil-assessment technology changes or something arises that’s not currently on the university’s radar.

“Technology is always changing, which is why we had to collect two tons of dirt,” she said.

The university sampled more densely than what is typical and plans to collect soil samples on two additional pivot sections next spring or fall.

“It’s laying the groundwork for the research we’ll be doing on the site. We want to make sure the site can be sustainable for 50-plus years and the research we do has an impact locally,” she said.

The hope is to implement studies on such things as tillage, cover crops and irrigation and see how those practices impact soil properties and other environmental factors, she said.

“Water quality, soil health and water usage are all important in this valley,” she said.

The research will focus on how to improve water-use efficiency, water quality and soil health, which are all important to university stakeholders, she said.

A benefit to the site is that it never housed a dairy, and researchers can capture nutrient processes on the crop side before the cows arrive, she said.

The dairy will provide for nutrient-recycling research. Researchers will be able to look at how the dairy impacts cropping systems and how the two can interact in a sustainable way, she said.

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