The University of Idaho could boast the largest research dairy in the country within the next decade.
While the facilities themselves are still years from breaking ground and fundraising efforts to support the $45 million project are still in the early stages, university officials say the UI’s Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment, stands to become a “point of excellence” for the institution and for the state.
The UI College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Dean Michael Parrella said CAFE will actually consist of three facilities located at different sites in Idaho’s Magic Valley.
Parrella said CAFE will include an outreach and education center, a food processing facility on the College of Southern Idaho campus and a huge research dairy that will be home to 2,000-head of cattle, making it the largest in the country.
“The reason for that is that the average size of a dairy in the Magic Valley is more than 1,500 animals,” Parrella said, noting many research dairies in the U.S., including the UI, boast no more than 100-head of cattle. “It’s impossible to do environmental research that is applicable to a large-scale dairy just because of that scaling factor is just not there.”
He said the dairy will be raised on a 600-acre plat near Rupert, Idaho, with hopes to eventually expand the site to 1,000 acres.
The UI has also made an offer to purchase 6 acres near Twin Falls which could become the site of the outreach and education center, which Parrella said would be oriented toward helping the public, K-12 students and legislators understand their food supply more completely.
“The offices and laboratories for our scientists will be there as well and then the third piece would be on the CSI campus and it’ll be a food processing facility,” Parrella said. “That would be for research and also would add to the workforce training, undergraduate education in the food processing area that would dovetail with what CSI is currently doing.”
In addition to providing workforce training on subjects like food safety, Parrella said the food processing facility at CSI and the dairy will be testbeds for mitigating the large-scale environmental impacts of big dairy operations.
In the last 20 years, he said, Idaho has gone from a relative non-entity to the third-largest milk-producing state.
Parrella said 20 percent of Idaho’s Gross Domestic Product is agriculture-related and 40 percent of agriculture in Idaho is dairy-related — so fluctuations in this industry have huge implications for state economy.
He said this is unlikely to change in the coming decades, meaning finding more sustainable and efficient ways of supporting milk production and agriculture in general are crucial to Idaho’s economic future.
Parella said CAFE, the UI, the state of Idaho and industry partners will each fund a third of the $45 million project.
While fundraising is still in its early stages, Parrella said he anticipates 2019 will be a signature year for fundraising efforts.
While it’s too soon to tell, he has hopes to break ground on the first of the CAFE facilities in 2023 and to milk the first cow at the Rupert site in 2024. Parrella called the CAFE a “transformational facility both for the state and for the university.”
“We’re looking at the largest research area of its kind in the United States, so from an environmental perspective, there’s no other place anywhere in the U.S. where you can do this type of research,” Parrella said. “We expect this facility to serve as a model not only for production dairies and production agriculture in the Magic Valley, but across the U.S.”