The Boise-based J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation has pledged $1 million toward the planned expansion of the University of Idaho agricultural research station near Parma.
The UI College of Agricultural and Life Sciences is working to raise a total of $7 million to build the Idaho Center for Plant and Soil Health at the Parma Research and Extension Center. Commodity groups, allied industries and private parties have made financial commitments to the project along with the university. The Albertson foundation investment brings to $2.9 million the total amount raised.
The Parma area produces more than 40 crops, including many specialty varieties, and has an ideal microclimate for research that impacts many of the state’s approximately 185 commodities, the university said.
Michael Parrella, UI agriculture dean, told Capital Press that soil and water system health will be the key to sustainability of the state’s large agricultural industry.
Research into soil health — a big factor in crop quality around the state — and water cleanliness, usage efficiency and even reuse are important, he said.
“All are going to be big issues facing all of agriculture. That is what this center will be focusing on,” Parrella said.
Plans call for construction of a new building with labs and equipment for agronomy, entomology, nematology, plant pathology and pomology research.
UI said it plans to add a weed scientist, an irrigation-focused soil scientist, a pollination specialist and an extension fruit and viticulture specialist.
Parrella said UI Extension’s budget to be presented to the 2020 legislature does not include a capital spending request for the Parma project.
“We are asking growers to step up,” he said. “We are going to continue to ask for funding” from growers, commodity groups and others.
“This partnership with the Albertson Family Foundation is pivotal in helping Idaho farmers become even more competitive in their industry,” UI President Scott Green said in a news release. “I appreciate their ongoing support of the University of Idaho and especially of Dean Parrella’s vision for how best to support Idaho agriculture.”
“We invest in leaders and programs that provide new learning opportunities for Idahoans,” Foundation Executive Director Roger Quarles said. “We support innovative organizations that focus on continuous improvement and strive for meaningful results. By providing this resource, the Parma Research and Extension Center will continue to support an important agricultural region in our state.”
Industry contributions were instrumental in keeping the facility open after the university about a decade ago considered closing it as funding tightened during the recession. It has operated for some 70 years.
The foundation is named for founders of the Albertsons grocery chain.