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Idaho CAFE project gets boost from Chobani

A road stretches out straight ahead with rows of dairy cows on each side.
Joy Pruitt
The Center for Public Integrity
A file photo of a dairy farm in Jerome, Idaho

Fundraising for a large research dairy farm planned in the Magic Valley got a boost Wednesday.

The Idaho CAFE project, or the Idaho Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment, has been in the works for more than a decade.

It’s led by the University of Idaho and includes a 2,000-cow dairy and 640-acres of farm fields in Rupert, an outreach center in Jerome, and a food-processing-focused partnership with the College of Southern Idaho.

The $22.5 million first stage of the project is now closer to reality thanks to a $1 million gift from Chobani announced Wednesday. The yogurt-maker has a manufacturing plant and research and development center in Twin Falls.

Michael Parrella, dean of U of I’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, said Chobani’s mission aligns with one of the primary goals of the CAFE project: to answer pressing questions about the dairy industry’s environmental impact.

“Most of that is nutrient management – what comes out of the back end of the cow,” Parrella said.

“There’s lagoons, there’s odor coming from the dairies, there’s air quality issues,” he said. “There’s issues over surface and groundwater contamination – big issues in the state, no question.”

The dairy industry has set a goal of reaching greenhouse gas neutrality by 2050. Experiments at the CAFE site will also focus on soil health and regenerative agriculture.

The facility, which would be the largest research dairy in the county, is intended to replicate a real dairy farm in Idaho, so scientists can ask real-world questions. Parrella calls it a 30-year experiment.

The research will also focus on the dairy industry’s economic viability. Idaho is the third-largest milk-producing state after California and Wisconsin.

Other funding for the CAFE project has come from the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, the University of Idaho and the state of Idaho, among other sources.

Construction on the first stage of the dairy is set to begin next month, and cows could be milked on site as soon as the end of this year.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

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