The University of Idaho and Idaho Dairymen’s Association have moved ahead with plans to jointly purchase property for a long-anticipated research dairy.
The dairy will be the central component of the Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment, called CAFE.
Finding a location to build the facility was a difficult process that took two years, but the university has found the perfect site, Michael Parrella, dean of the university’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said.
The 540-acre property is near Rupert in Minidoka County. It has good water rights and animal permits, which county officials said they would transfer to the university. The owners were prepared to build a dairy on the site but decided not to move forward, he said.
That offers several advantages for the university, which had been looking at purchasing and retrofitting a commercial dairy. Converting a commercial dairy to a research dairy would be difficult, and the university would also have to immediately manage the dairy operation, he said.
This way, it doesn’t have to deal with aging infrastructure or animals and can gradually scale up cow numbers. Because there was never manure on the site, it can begin environmental baseline research immediately, he said.
Starting from scratch gives the university time and flexibility to custom build the facility, which is expected to begin milking in 2024, he said.
“We’re pretty excited about it. It will be a beautiful facility and will reflect the size and value of the industry it’s going to be serving,” he said.
The property is owned by Brandon Whitesides; his sister, Stacey Jackson; and their father, Brent Whitesides.
In addition to selling the 540 acres, the family is donating 100 acres.
The family’s goal is supporting the dairy industry, Brent Whitesides said.
“There’s a big need for education. This will be a great thing for students from our area,” he said.
The plan is still for a 2,000-cow dairy and 1,000 acres of associated cropland. The family has provided an option to purchase two additional 320-acre parcels that are adjacent to the CAFE land, Parrella said.
Purchase of the initial 540 acres is the first piece in the larger CAFE plan, he said.
“We’re moving CAFE forward bit by bit and anticipate an accelerated rate going forward,” he said.
In addition to research, CAFE will have a strong education and outreach component, with an outreach and extension center near the intersection of Interstate 84 and U.S. Highway 93. It will also include a food-processing pilot plant at the College of Southern Idaho to reinforce vocational training to support regional processing.