University of Idaho Extension builds knowledge, leadership and community engagement in all 44 counties in the Gem State. Each day members of the Vandal Family communicate their expertise to agricultural producers, teach skills in gardening, money management, and health and nutrition to statewide residents. They also build leadership skills in our youth.
Our U of I Extension educators are the connection between the research at our land-grant institution and those producing food for the world. Together they keep our food system free of virus, crop yields high and animals healthy. The newest knowledge exchanges hands at these sites not only in urban areas but also in areas like U of I Extension on the Fort Hall Reservation, which serves an area that includes about 150,000 acres of farmland and 344,000 acres of rangeland in Bannock, Bingham, Caribou and Power counties.
I decided over a year ago to visit each and every U of I Extension and research site in the state – no small undertaking in its own right. No sooner did we launch this plan than the pandemic hit and limited travel. Yet, doing the business of our statewide institution took me to every corner of our state in the past year. I visited 28 U of I Extension and research sites. I continue to be amazed by the activities at each – some from meager facilities brimming with enthusiasm and others, like Bonneville County in Idaho Falls, with new facilities showcasing county investment and collaboration with industry.
As the nation’s No. 1 producer of potatoes, U of I’s Kimberly Research and Extension Center connects producers to the latest research and techniques to reduce disease and meet the needs of this $4 billion industry. The Tetonia Research and Extension Center grows 153 potato varieties annually for evaluation as breeder stock. I look forward to visiting the Aberdeen Research and Extension Center, another key location in potato research.
Near Dubois, our researchers at the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station are using DNA and eating preferences of sheep to develop new strategies to address overgrazing – benefitting sheep producers statewide.
Hovering above the average, U of I Extension, Madison County, at Rexburg, hosts one of the largest drone fleets in the state – and Idaho’s youth benefit through a variety of educational opportunities in drone flight and data gathering.
Eat Smart Idaho is delivered in 31 counties and has touched more than 30,000 low-income families with nutritional and physical activity education. U of I Extension, Payette County leads this effort in southwestern Idaho.
Providing leadership opportunities and career exploration for Idaho’s youth, 4-H Youth Development programming encourages thousands of Idaho’s youth each year with traditional agricultural programs like raising livestock, as well as exploratory programs like robotics. U of I Extension, Kootenai County in Coeur d’Alene boasts one of the state’s largest 4-H programs impacting more than 750 kids and teens each year.
Kootenai County and neighboring Boundary and Bonner counties, as well as the research site at Sandpoint, benefitted from a $410,000 broadband initiative from the Idaho Department of Commerce to help U of I upgrade broadband speeds and publicly-accessible wireless internet, supporting the residents of those counties.
The outreach potential of our U of I Extension sites is the perfect platform on which to build a statewide broadband initiative. We invested nearly $1 million in CARES Act funding to equip research and Extension centers with digital infrastructure and hardware to help them – and potential students – have better connectivity.
While I still have a number of sites to visit, I am privileged to better understand the role of these sites in our land-grant mission. We are here to serve our great state, not only in educating its students but in collaborating, teaching and sharing with all its citizens – so we can all live healthier, stronger and more impactful lives.