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University of Idaho officials broke ground on June 30 on a $45 million project that will include the largest and most advanced research dairy in the United States.

More than 150 people showed up for a groundbreaking ceremony for the Idaho Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment, commonly known as CAFE. The actual construction of the research dairy part of the project should begin within a few weeks.

Researchers attached to the CAFE project will address some of the key challenges facing dairy producers and farmers in Idaho.

CAFE has been envisioned and talked about for over two decades and the $22.5 million dairy research portion of the project is now officially underway. The dairy will be built on 640 acres of land near Rupert, adjacent to a 1,200-acre demonstration farm where U of I scientists will conduct crop research.

The overall CAFE project will include a food processing research center located on the College of Southern Idaho campus in Twin Falls and an outreach and education center in Jerome County that will help teach people about agriculture from Idaho and where their food comes from.

The 2,000-cow research dairy will be the largest of its kind in the United States and will help Idaho’s important dairy industry solve some of its biggest challenges, including environmental ones.

“This will be the largest research dairy in the United States and it’s clear that the work done here will have an impact not just for Idaho, but nationally and internationally,” said Michael Parrella, dean of the College of Science. agricultural and life of the U of I. .

Idaho ranks #4 in the nation in total milk production and #3 in cheese production, and dairy is the state’s largest agricultural sector by total farm cash receipts.

For dairies in Idaho, one of the greatest benefits of the research dairy is that it will conduct research under the same arid conditions in which most dairies in the state operate.

Because it will have the capacity to milk 2,000 cows, it will also be much larger than other research dairies in the country and more representative of the size of Idaho dairies.

Parrella said the dairy will be a mecca for researchers across the country.

“We expect professors from other universities to come here,” he said. “Why? Because this facility is going to give them the opportunity to do work that they can’t do anywhere else.

Members of the Idaho dairy industry first approached university officials with the initial dairy research concept in 1995.

A lot of work and partnerships have taken place since then to make the project a reality, Parrella said.

“It’s really a celebration (which has) been a long time coming,” he said. “Today is certainly a milestone for dairy research.”

The Idaho Dairymen’s Association, which represents the state’s 400 dairies, provided CAFE with $2 million. This represents the largest one-time contribution IDA has ever made to any project or cause, said IDA Executive Director Rick Naerebout.

The dairy farmers’ association strongly believes it needs to invest in research, he said.

“It’s a big moment for us,” he said. “We need to have the science to support what we do as an industry.”

The research dairy is expected to be completed in 2023 and the goal is to milk the cows there in 2024.

“We’re thrilled to finally get to this point,” Naerebout said. “After two decades of talking about this concept, we’re actually going to run and move dirt.”

IDA President Pete Wiersma, who has worked in the dairy industry in Idaho for 30 years, said the exciting part of dairy research is that the work being done there will help the industry meet some of its most great challenges.

“It’s an exciting day,” he said. “It’s exciting for me to know, and I think for most other dairy farmers as well, that we’re going to have science, research and answers. It gives me great encouragement as a…dairy farmer to not be the only one trying to deal with this stuff.

The research results coming out of the dairy may not always be favorable to dairy farmers, added Wiersma, “but that’s okay because at least we know and we can adapt. This is a big positive thing for the dairy industry in Idaho and, I believe, for the national dairy industry as well.

CAFE scientists will conduct cutting-edge research related to the dairy industry, including dairy-related research on lagoons, nutrient management and contamination of surface and ground water, and odor and pollution control. emissions.

They will also conduct a wealth of agronomic research on the crops on the demonstration farm, including water use and efficiency, soil health and fertility, crop rotations, forage crops, and agronomy, animal genetic improvement, labor management and precision agriculture.

CAFE researchers will also look at topics such as agricultural economics, animal health and productivity, food safety, food science and manufacturing, green energy production and value-added products.

“Research dairy is the main component of CAFE, but there will be broad benefits that all of Idaho agriculture can reap,” Parrella said.

Studies will deepen the link between animal agriculture and plant agriculture.

“The beauty of CAFE is the link between dairy research and crop production,” Parrella said. “I feel like that makes it a unique facility in the United States.”

The dairy has already attracted significant research funding. A team of U of I faculty won a 2020 USDA $10 million grant to improve the sustainability of dairies while developing economic opportunities for the dairy industry.

The grant currently funds the work of 20 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers.

“We already got a $10 million grant for this facility and we haven’t even built it yet,” Parrella said.

Professors from the Department of Plant Sciences and the Department of Soils and Water Systems at the U of I have been collecting soil samples at the demonstration farm for two years to conduct detailed soil analysis and establish information basis for future research.

Parrella said the CAFE project is the result of a three-way partnership between the university, the state and the Idaho dairy industry and other agricultural partners.

“I don’t see this as a University of Idaho project. I see it as a partnership,” he said.

The Idaho Agricultural Bureau Federation will contribute $100,000 to CAFE. IFBF President Bryan Searle, a farmer from Shelley, said the university’s vision for the project is exciting and it is a privilege for Farm Bureau to be a part of it.

In a letter of support for the project that Searle sent to Island University, he said, “Proposed to be the largest integrated research center focused on the dairy and allied industry in the United States, CAFE will strengthen a national and international reputation that will reflect the size, quality, and importance of the industry it represents and solidify Idaho’s position on the map as a center of agriculture and food innovation and technology.

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