The University of Idaho has the $7 million it needs to renovate and expand its agricultural research station near Parma.
Gov. Brad Little on March 17 signed House Bill 225, which directs nearly $90 million to the state’s Permanent Building Fund to pay for repairs and projects at public buildings.
The legislation includes $3 million for the Parma Research and Extension Center. The Parma project already has $1 million from UI and recently met its $3 million fundraising target from private industry.
Carly Schoepflin, UI College of Agricultural and Life Sciences communications director, said next steps include bidding and other processes with the state Division of Public Works, and state Board of Education approval of final design and a construction schedule. Groundbreaking is expected in the late summer or early fall of 2022.
“We are really grateful to the governor and Legislature for supporting this research,” CALS Dean Michael Parrella said.
He said Parma Research and Extension exemplifies a project possible only because of a public-private partnership. Industry stakeholders in southwest Idaho contributed to the design and helped determine programs to add or expand.
Six researchers are based at Parma. UI plans to hire four — in fruit and viticulture, weed, irrigation and soil, and pollination specialties, Parrella said. They will support needs in southwest Idaho and statewide while restoring some past capabilities.
“That didn’t come from the university,” he said. “We are following through on stakeholders telling us what they want.”
Schoepflin said industry investment includes $1.9 million from corporate and foundation partners, $685,000 from agricultural commodity groups and $415,000 from individual donors and ag producers. Contributing commodity groups include Amalgamated Sugar and state commissions for alfalfa and clover seed, apples, barley, beans, hops, mint, onions and wine.
Plans call for developing the Idaho Center for Plant and Soil Health at the facility, which is more than 50 years old. Parrella said the renovation and expansion will position it to attract faculty and additional grant funding while taking on research important locally and statewide.
Food Producers of Idaho Executive Director Rick Waitley said a 2018 meeting that focused on the value and future of the Parma Research and Extension Center included various commodity and farm-organization leaders who support its mission. Several faculty “provide research in hard sciences that impact all commodities,” he said. Research in agronomy, entomology and nematology “have helped to make Idaho commodities to be some of the best quality in the U.S.”
He said the Treasure Valley is home to many specialty crops, especially in seed production, “and supplies quality seed around the world. The Parma R and E Center and research conducted there is important to sustaining the future of the Idaho seed industry.”
Jarom Jemmett, partner in a Notus-area farm that grows onions, processing potatoes, carrot seed and other crops, said: “The value of the local research and extension center, with its exceptional employees, merits a high-quality facility that will lead to increased economic impact to our region.”
Learning more about pollinators will benefit many existing crops while helping to increase agricultural biodiversity, a key to soil health, bee scientist Ron Bitner said. He owns Bitner Vineyards west of Caldwell and serves on the Pollinator Partnership board. Idaho has more than 700 bee species, he said.