UI seeks outside funding for dairy research center

Michael Parrella, center, dean of the University of Idaho College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, talks with Bob Ohlensehlen, left, a certified nutrient management planner, and Bill Hazen, retired U of I county extension educator, following a listening session in Twin Falls about the university's plans for its Center for Agriculture, Food and Environment research facility on Jan. 25.

TWIN FALLS, Idaho — The University of Idaho is doubling down on attracting support for a new world-class research facility to address the environmental and economic sustainability of animal agriculture and food processing.

Michael Parrella, dean of the university’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, welcomed the public to a recent listening session to present the scope of the project, the need for the research and the benefit to Idaho and the community.

The Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment — known as CAFE — would be the largest research dairy in the U.S. and the only one addressing milk production in an arid climate, he said.

“It is going to support not just dairy but the huge swath of everything that is dairy,” he said.

The research will address environmental issues, including water quality and efficiency, nutrient management and soil health. In addition to research, the facility will have a strong education and outreach component.

“The list goes on and on...,” he said.

CAFE will be transformational for the university, the College of Southern Idaho, the community, the state and the industry, he said.

The $45 million project will include a 2,000-cow dairy and 1,000 acres of associated cropland to grow feed and perform research on soil and water issues.

It will also include a food-processing pilot plant on the CSI campus to reinforce vocational training to support regional processing.

CAFE’s research, education and outreach will involve several colleges within the university — such as engineering, natural resources and business and economics — all with plans for educational programs at the facility.

It will provide enhanced opportunities for students from the University of Idaho and students from collaborating universities — including developing four-year degrees in animal science and food science at the center, which would help revamp the university’s graduate programs.

The outreach component will consider the environmental footprint to mitigate public concerns, and the facility will include an outreach and education center for the public and schoolchildren.

The state Legislature has appropriated $10 million for the project, and the university is hoping for another $5 million. The university is selling some of its assets to supply another $15 million. The remaining $15 million needs to come from outside sources.

“We are doubling down on raising outside funding,” Parrella said.

“That’s some heavy lifting. We’ve never tried anything of this magnitude,” he said.

But the university is engaging Idaho companies, such as Glanbia, Chobani and Simplot, as well as companies outside the state — which would benefit from the center’s ability to do unique replicated studies — and food retailers that are intent on sustainability.

CAFE “matches the framework of many companies,” he said.

Parrella said he has no doubt the one-of-a-kind, world-class facility would be successful in obtaining federal matching grants for research.

“I’m excited about it. I’m passionate about it. I think we can make it happen,” he said.

But the clock is ticking, the university really needs to secure funding commitments by the end of June, he said.

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