Idaho dairy

A new federal program to help hard-pressed dairy farmers is expected to be ready for enrollment in June 2019, as farmers undergo their fifth year of low milk prices that have driven thousands out of business.

After 15 years of planning and twists and turns along the way, an effort to create the country’s largest research dairy is finally on solid ground, literally.

The University of Idaho on Thursday announced it has received approval from the Idaho State Board of Education to purchase property for the facility — which will be the foundation of the long-awaited Idaho Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment, a $45 million facility.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Michael Parrella, dean of the university’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, told Capital Press.

The university has built a lot of excitement about CAFE over the last two years. But it’s hard to garner financial support without a physical site, he said.

“The progress we made hinged on finding a site,” he said.

With the board’s approval, the university expects to close on the purchase of the property for the research facility on March 1.

Idaho dairy producers, which started the conversation about a research facility, are also excited, Rick Naerebout, CEO for Idaho Dairymen’s Association, said.

“Being able to have a site is significant,” he said.

It gives the project more certainty and makes it more of a reality than a theoretical concept, he said.

“For us, the focus is on the environmental aspect and being able to meet consumers’ expectation,” he said.

CAFE will help the industry continue to address questions the public is asking, such as how is it improving environmental practices, he said.

The focus is also on economic viability for dairy producers by developing technology to generate a revenue stream from the manure dairies produce ever day, he said.

Purchasing property is the first stage in making CAFE a reality and starting the research, he said.

The University of Idaho and Idaho Dairymen’s Association will jointly purchase 540 acres near Rupert from the Whitesides family for $4.4 million, with the university paying $2.4 million and IDA paying $2 million.

The university has partnered with IDA all along from an academic/industry perspective, but a financial partnership is different, he said.

“That will move the whole CAFE project forward,” he said.

The Whitesides family is also donating 100 acres to the project, and the university is grateful for that gift, Parrella said.

“It’s a three-way partnership,” he said.

And it’s the start of the largest research dairy in the U.S. and the only one addressing milk production in an arid climate.

The research will address environmental issues, including water quality and efficiency, nutrient management and soil health.

“I feel like it’s going to be a critical piece of sustaining the dairy industry going forward, but it’s going to benefit all of agriculture,” he said.

The effort so far has focused on raising awareness. Having a site will accelerate the pace of fundraising, and the university will be consummating the relationships it started on CAFE, he said.

In 2017, the Idaho Legislature appropriated $10 million from the state’s permanent building fund to help finance the project with an additional $5 million investment anticipated as the project progresses. Additional funding will come from the university and industry.

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