The University of Idaho’s budget request for the fiscal year that starts July 1 includes new money for Rinker Rock Creek Ranch and continued spending on improvements throughout UI’s Agricultural Research and Extension Service system.

For Rinker, a 10,400-acre cattle research facility UI is acquiring near Hailey, Research and Extension requests two new full-time professional positions and $378,400 in ongoing money from the state general fund, which consists of state sales and income tax revenue primarily.

This funding would staff the ranch and expand rangeland-utilization research opportunities. A budget summary said the amount includes $231,500 in personnel costs; $90,000 for operating expenditures such as research, trucking and travel; and $56,900 in capital outlays such as field computers, monitoring equipment and transmitters.

UI plans to study cattle nutrition and growth on rangeland at the ranch, as well as how grazing impacts rangeland species and ecosystems. The university would maintain a cattle operation.

Idaho Gov. Brad Little’s budget recommendation for the site includes the two new hires but half as much ongoing spending — $189,200 — from the general fund. His recommended spending would include $143,800 for personnel costs and $45,400 for operating expenditures.

UI Research and Extension also requests $245,200 for move-in costs at the Nancy M. Cummings Aberdeen Research Support Facility occupied last November; Cummings Ranch near Carmen, where classroom and office occupancy is expected next October; and the Sandpoint Research and Extension Complex occupied last August. The governor’s recommendation is for $122,600.

The Idaho Legislature appropriated $31.33 million for the UI Research and Extension operating budget in fiscal 2019, including general fund revenue as well as dedicated funds largely from fees. Research and Extension for fiscal 2020 requests $32.98 million compared to the governor’s recommendation of $32.19 million. Lawmakers will finalize the budget in coming weeks.

The capital portion was $777,900 for fiscal 2019. Research and Extension requests $985,900 in capital spending for fiscal 2020 compared to the governor’s recommended $790,000. The capital budget goes toward facilities and equipment.

The Legislature in 2017 first authorized an additional $500,000 per year placed into Research and Extension’s base budget for ongoing capital outlays to improve facilities, said Janet Jessup, senior budget and policy analyst in the Legislative Services Office. This remains part of the base each year unless lawmakers reconsider it.

UI College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Dean Michael Parrella, speaking to the Idaho House Agricultural Affairs Committee on Jan. 24, said the university is working to improve its Research and Extension centers to benefit the industry and attract employees to succeed retiring professional staff.

In precision agriculture, for example, “the industry is moving rapidly in that direction, primarily on its own,” he said. “We need facilities that are at least commensurate.”

UI aims to expand its Parma Research and Extension Center into a statewide center for plant and soil health, Parrella said. It would emphasize areas including pomology, agronomy, cropping systems, weed science, nematology and plant pathology, irrigation technology and some crops gaining prominence such as hops.

“We are looking for the college to invest money and stakeholders to invest money,” he said.

Planning for renovation and new construction at Parma will continue this year, ahead of a possible request for Idaho Legislature funding in fiscal 2021.

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