Catching Up with CALS — Nov. 4, 2020
Dean's Message — Reasons for Optimism
Thanks to all of you who attended last week’s All CALS Meeting. Gathering to share information provides an important opportunity to assess our current situation and to showcase our talented faculty and staff.
I hope last week’s meeting also offered reasons for optimism, despite the uncertainty we all face on the U of I campus, in Idaho, the United States and worldwide.
The uptick in new undergraduates and graduate students in CALS puts us among the few colleges to share that positive news.
A surge in grant funding from March through September brought in $17.9 million. That compares with an annual average of $17.7 million during the past three years.
CALS fundraising efforts for fiscal 2020 total nearly $20 million, half of the U of I’s total and nearly a third more than our assigned goal.
Another boost came with President Scott Green’s announcement Monday about his success in advancing the public-private partnership or P3 initiative. The effort will create a 50-year partnership with Sacyr Plenary Utility Partners Idaho LLC to lease the steam plant and utility system.
That $225 million up-front payment that is the core of the agreement will generate $6 million a year for U of I to invest in strategic initiatives that will return more revenue.
The first year’s investments include $3 million in graduate student success, $1 million for telling our story to recruit new students and $2 million in student success initiatives, including scholarships.
Any positive news concerning funding for the college and university reduces some of the uncertainties we have faced. The resources help build confidence that we do have the means to continue moving the college and university forward.
Perhaps my favorite part of the All CALS meeting, though, came with the list of research, teaching and Extension accomplishments each unit submitted.
Individually and as a whole CALS faculty and staff excel at their own jobs. As a collective force, this college proves time and again that it can overcome uncertainty and adversity. CALS will continue to provide information to keep agriculture strong in Idaho and to provide high quality education for students.
Michael P. Parrella
College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
By the Numbers
31% growth marked a strong rise in organic sales from 2016-19, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service in a new report. Livestock and poultry sales rose 44% to lead the sector’s increase and totaled $1.66 billion. Organic crops sales rose 38% and generated $5.79 billion, more than half of the sector’s $9.93 billion in sales. Idaho ranked 10th nationally, generating $203 million in sales from 181,000 acres certified for organic production.
Our Stories — Healthy Soil, Healthy Agriculture
A new U of I study will try to better define and understand how the natural processes that are central to organic farming actually work.
Organic farming relies on the natural world, nutrients and organisms, to produce crops and control pests. Soil scientist Jodi Johnson-Maynard will lead a $500,000 study funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to better understand soil health — the goal of all farmers.
Organic farmers focus on methods that promote soil health and avoid synthetic herbicides to control weeds. The alternative, tilling the soil to reduce weeds, can carry its own costs to soil health.
The three-year project will study the effects on soil of organic farming methods in northern and south-central Idaho.
Johnson-Maynard, who serves as head of CALS Soil and Water Systems department, and Ed Lewis, who is head of the Entomology, Plant Pathology and Nematology department, worked together to develop and launch the project.
The project will gather soil samples from plots in northern Idaho from Lewiston to Sandpoint and in south-central Idaho’s Magic Valley from Twin Falls to Fairfield.
Although the study specifically focuses on organic farming, Johnson-Maynard said the results will help farmers in general.
“Farmers from across the spectrum from organic to conventional are interested in limiting their inputs, and all of them are interested in soil health,” she said. “As a society we view management as being either organic or conventional, but it can also be viewed as a continuum with the most sustainable point along that continuum dependent on site or regional-specific conditions.”
Reliance on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides raise concerns about the sustainability of those farming practices. Organic farming practices like intense tillage to control weeds can damage soil health and raise sustainability issues, too.
The study will look at the biological, physical and chemical aspects of soil health across multiple locations in both regions of the state. In some respects, it will be the most detailed effort to define what soil health actually means and looks like, Johnson-Maynard said.
The study’s overall goal is helping farmers to develop resilient organic farming systems and improve soil health in northern Idaho and adjacent eastern Washington, and in southern Idaho.
The growing demand for organic products and price premiums for organic crops increased the need for that information, Johnson-Maynard said.
This project, titled “Soil Health and Management in Organic Systems: Identifying Meaningful Targets and Pathways Towards Reslience,” is funded under the US. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant No. 2020-51106-32358. The total project funding is $499,864, of which 100% is the federal share.
Faces and Places
UI Extension, Power County-based Regional 4-H Youth Development Educator Scott Nash is the new president-elect of the National Association of Extension 4-H Youth Development Professionals.
- Nov. 11 — "Apples and Their Uses – Past and Present," Heritage Orchard Conference, 10-11:30 a.m. PST
- Nov. 23-27 — Fall recess
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