MOSCOW, Idaho — Flexibility in design and operation over the next 30 to 50 years must guide the creation of the nation’s largest research dairy, University of Idaho officials say.
The Idaho Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment – or CAFE – took a major step forward this spring with the launch of design and planning for a $22.5 million research dairy near Rupert. The dairy is scheduled for completion in 2023 and to begin milking cows by 2024.
The dairy will house 2,000 cows and allow researchers to better integrate animal and plant agriculture, said Michael Parrella, U of I College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) dean.
“The project really represents a research dairy and a related demonstration farm that will be a 30- to 50-year experiment to look at sustainability and regenerative agriculture,” Parrella said.
The research dairy and its related farm will address the connection between plant and animal agriculture, Parrella said. The 640-acre site near Rupert will be among the best equipped sites in the nation to find solutions.
The CAFE launch meeting on July 23 gathered U of I and design and engineering company leaders. The session drew nearly 50 people online and in person, including administrators and deans of other U of I colleges.
The two lead contractors for the project are McAlvain Construction of Boise and Keller Associates, which has offices in several Idaho cities. McAlvain will serve as general contractor and formed a team that includes Standley and Co. and Mike Roth, a longtime dairy producer. Keller’s team includes AgProfessionals and Lombard Conrad Architects.
Leaders of both companies said their longstanding ties to the state and the university give them the expertise to tackle the project.
A $10 million U.S. Department of Agriculture research grant announced earlier in July will fund projects by 21 faculty in agriculture and engineering to explore the bioeconomy created by the dairy industry.
“There may be a time when the water and the nutrients from dairies will be worth as much as the milk they produce,” said CALS Associate Dean for Research Mark McGuire. He leads the USDA project and serves as Idaho Agricultural Experiment Station director.
A dairy scientist, McGuire said the key to successfully designing the new research dairy will require flexibility to adapt as the agricultural industry changes and science evolves. Another need – gathering electronic data – will require innovative thinking.
Idaho legislators provided $10 million in state funds to match private funding raised by the university and have favorably considered adding another $5 million. U of I is leading the project’s creation, but Idaho CAFE is a statewide initiative, Parrella said.
The dairy is the largest of four components that make up the center. It includes a discovery center and offices near Jerome and expanded food processing research and education with the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls.
U of I also invited collaboration with Idaho’s other public universities and Brigham Young University – Idaho.