USDA Grant Supports Research Team’s Focus on Sustainable Practices for Livestock

Wednesday, April 27 2011

MOSCOW, Idaho – Researchers at the University of Idaho will focus their efforts on how to develop a sustainable livestock food system in the Pacific Northwest thanks to funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“The University of Idaho’s research enterprise is strengthened through the support of interdisciplinary grants such as this,” said Jack McIver, vice president for research and economic development. “This grant’s scope, tapping five departments in three colleges, will bring new thinking and applications into this realm.”

The two-year, $438,000 award – under the Agriculture and Research Initiative through the USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture – will fund the work of a research team led by Darin Saul, director of the University of Idaho Sustainability Center. His team includes center staff, along with faculty experts in business, economics, bioregional planning and bioenergy. Team members are:

Tracie Lee, operations management faculty member in the College of Business and Economics, with expertise in supply chain management and project management;
Steven Peterson, research economist and instructor in the College of Business and Economics, with expertise in environmental impact studies pertaining to natural resource and sustainability issues;
Nick Sanyal, professor of conservation social sciences and bioregional planning in the College of Natural Resources, with expertise in conservation management and planning;
Steve Devadoss, professor of agricultural economics in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, with expertise in domestic and international marketing; and
Dev Shrestha, professor of bioenergy in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, with expertise in the life cycle analysis of bioenergy production systems.

The team will determine the optimum configuration of a regional livestock food system for small producers, including production, transportation, processing, and marketing and sales.

The ideal system would maximize economic benefits to small producers and rural areas while minimizing environmental impacts such as air and water pollution.

“This project is unique in its integration of economic and environmental benefits through economic modeling, life cycle analysis and cost/benefit analysis,” said Saul.

Nationwide, sales of locally produced meat products are on the rise and consumers have shown a willingness to pay more for local foods sourced from a variety of market channels. Demand for local meat products represents an opportunity for small producers in this region to enter a higher profit market niche, thereby increasing farm revenues. But this requires a resilient, sustainable local market system.

To address this need, Saul and his team will conduct seven concurrent lines of research to explore strategies to increase the profitability of small livestock operations, generate demand for small producer products, and create jobs and investment opportunities in rural communities.

The project stems from an ongoing collaboration between the University of Idaho, local livestock producers, and agency and non-profit partners over the past decade. Previous efforts identified necessary components for a regional livestock food system focused around small producers, including mechanisms for commercial processing and marketing.

“Small-scale ranchers in northern Idaho and eastern Washington are limited in production and marketing of their value-added meat products due to lack of available USDA inspected processing facilities within a reasonable driving distance,” said Saul. “They generally sell their livestock at auction, with few options for branding their products to participate in higher value markets.”

Marketing of local products may require the organization of producer co-ops to enable sales to major food services and markets that require USDA-certified products. Analysis of several possible food system configurations will determine the most effective method to address these and other challenges.

The project will ultimately generate a roadmap to grow the diversity of the livestock food system, reduce the long-term risks and costs associated with environmental impacts, and increase local and regional economic vitality.

More information about the grant-funded work is available online:
# # #

About the University of Idaho
Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s land-grant institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year. The University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to be classified by the prestigious Carnegie Foundation as high research activity. The student population of 12,000 includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars, who select from more than 130 degree options in the colleges of Agricultural and Life Sciences; Art and Architecture; Business and Economics; Education; Engineering; Law; Letters, Arts and Social Sciences; Natural Resources; and Science. The university also is charged with the statewide mission for medical education through the WWAMI program. The university combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities and focuses on helping students to succeed and become leaders. It is home to the Vandals, and competes in the Western Athletic Conference. For more information, visit

About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals. For information, visit