Recent completion of a building in Salmon, and expectations for more progress this year on planned construction projects in the state’s south-central and southwestern regions, reflect food production’s diversification, University of Idaho College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Dean Michael Parrella says.

UI last month occupied a $3 million classroom and outreach building of 8,000 square feet at the Nancy M. Cummings Research, Education and Extension Center near Salmon. The center employs about 15. It works with the university’s Rinker Rock Creek Ranch, near Hailey, in researching irrigated and rangeland grazing.

UI put about $500,000 into the Cummings building, which replaces a double-wide trailer. The rest came from foundations, the state’s cattle industry and private producers. A grand opening will be scheduled for May.

The livestock industry has been a force in Idaho for years. A UI report on agriculture’s 2019 condition and economic impact said the state ranks third in the nation in milk production, and livestock products account for more than 57% of ag cash receipts in the state — having surpassed crop receipts every year since 2001 except for 2009, which saw very low milk prices.

UI Research and Extension centers were built with the plant-oriented focus that dominated agriculture in the state for generations, Parrella said in an interview.

Animal agriculture started growing significantly in Idaho the early 2000s.

“That has continued,” he said. “Salmon was doing that, but now we have invested in a new facility there to better address the needs of the industry.”

Animal, agronomic and food-science research will be emphasized at the Idaho Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment — known by the acronym CAFE — as well as risk-management research and assorted outreach.

Plans also call for a 2,000-cow research dairy in Rupert, a research- and information-focused “discovery center” in Jerome, and a food-processing research and training facility at the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls. Purchases of the Rupert and Jerome sites were completed in 2019.

Parrella said UI in 2020 aims to design and secure approval for CAFE’s dairy facility. The university this year also will focus on gathering funding for agronomic research to encompass crop rotation, soil health, water quality, nutrient management, irrigation efficiency and sustainability.

“There has been significant interest from industry partners in the agronomics component” in supporting it financially “and encouraging sustainability of high-value crops important to the Magic Valley,” CALS Director of Communications and Strategic Initiatives Carly Schoepflin said.

In southwest Idaho, Parrella said, more than $2 million has been raised from industry for a planned $7 million renovation of the Parma Research and Extension Center, including funding from seven commodity groups. Plans to renovate the facility and rename it the Idaho Center for Plant and Soil Health, reflect far-reaching impacts of its pest and disease research and its work with more than 40 crops. The College of Ag is contributing $1 million.

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