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Idaho Land Board approves investment in country's largest research dairy

Cows lined up in an indoor milking parlor
Frankie Barnhill
Boise State Public Radio
A file photo of a dairy farm in Idaho

The Idaho Board of Land Commissioners voted Tuesday to purchase farmland in south-central Idaho that will be the site of the country’s largest research dairy.

The Idaho Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment, known as the CAFE project, will include a 2,000-cow dairy and farm fields in Minidoka County, an outreach center in Jerome and a food-processing training program at the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls.

Idaho is the number three milk-producing state in the country after California and Wisconsin.

The land board decided Tuesday to acquire the 640 acres in Rupert valued at $6 million. The University of Idaho and the Idaho Dairymen’s Association each currently own about half of the land, and the Dairymen’s Association will donate its portion as part of the deal.

The funds for this investment come from a $23 million sale of agricultural college endowment land in Caldwell last year, and the remaining money in that pool will be invested into the primary infrastructure on the CAFE site – the robotic milking parlor.

A rendering of the milking parlor at the Idaho CAFE Rupert campus.
University of Idaho
A rendering of the milking parlor to be constructed on the Idaho CAFE Rupert campus.

The land and facility will be part of the state endowment portfolio and the University of Idaho will run the center.

“This development of CAFE will yield good returns for students today and well into the future,” Governor Brad Little said in a press release. “The important research will help the dairy producers, manufacturers, and University of Idaho agricultural students and future veterinarians who will assist with the vast spectrum of research.”

University officials have said the research taking place at the Rupert facility will focus on how the dairy industry can lower its greenhouse gas emissions. The industry has set a goal of becoming 'net zero' by 2050.

A researcher pours soil into a funnel
Rachel Cohen
Boise State Public Radio
Linda Schott, an assistant professor at the University of Idaho, collects soil samples at the CAFE project site in 2019.

“This new center will lead our state in addressing water issues and environmental quality challenges while supporting the continued growth of dairy,” Scott Green, the President of the University of Idaho, told the board Tuesday.

Studies will likely involve ways to better manage waste from cows and to create products from it like fertilizer.

The investment from the land board will bring the project’s total funds to nearly $50 million, which includes donations from industry and allocations from the state. The first construction phase should be complete in 2024.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2022 Boise State Public Radio

I cover environmental issues, outdoor recreation and local news for Boise State Public Radio. Beyond reporting, I contribute to the station’s digital strategy efforts and enjoy thinking about how our work can best reach and serve our audience. The best part of my job is that I get to learn something new almost every day.

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