A plan to create the nation’s largest research dairy advanced earlier this month with the Idaho State Board of Education’s vote to allow the University of Idaho to buy land for the $45 million project.

The University of Idaho and Idaho dairy industry-led effort will create the Idaho Center for Agriculture Food and the Environment, commonly referred to as CAFE. The project took a major step forward with the go-ahead to finalize purchase of land in Minidoka County near Rupert, Idaho.

The University of Idaho and Idaho Dairymen’s Association (IDA) will jointly purchase 540 acres from members of the Whitesides family, who will in turn donate another parcel of land.

The university will pay $2.5 million and IDA will pay $2 million toward the purchase.

IDA members first began working with the University of Idaho 15 years ago on this project and dedicated funding to the project a decade ago. Since then, Idaho’s dairy industry grew dramatically to rank third nationally in milk production. Much of that growth took place in south central Idaho’s Magic Valley, principally in Jerome, Gooding, Twin Falls, Cassia, and Minidoka counties.

Why is that important?
University of Idaho economists project that milk sales in 2018 totaled $2.36 billion, a third of Idaho agriculture’s total cash receipts.

Brandon Whitesides, who is selling the property with his sister Stacey Jackson and father Brent, said the family’s goal is supporting the dairy industry.

As a student at Brigham Young University, Brandon worked at the 500-cow university dairy there. BYU no longer operates that dairy, so the University of Idaho effort will fill a vital educational need at the state and local level.

Far bigger plans
In meetings with Idaho legislators last month, Michael Parrella, dean of the college of agriculture and life sciences at the University of Idaho, outlined plans for CAFE that reach beyond the new research dairy. Those plans include an outreach and education center near the Interstate 84 and U.S. Highway 93 interchange and greater focus on food processing through a partnership with the College of Southern Idaho and its existing facilities.

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.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2019
March 18, 2019
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