An update and tour of the Idaho Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (CAFE) with project manager John W. Wright
October 21, 2020, by Jessica Machado — There is a saying in the farming and ranching community about one’s desire to take on such a demanding career path: “It’s in your blood, you are just born to do it.”
After visiting with John W. Wright, the project manager for the Idaho Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (CAFE), it’s evident that this saying rings true. An authentic dairyman at his core, even in retirement, John could not stay away from the industry.
I had the opportunity to speak with John and receive a tour of the location in Rupert where Idaho CAFE’s research dairy will be located. As a fellow dairy producer, I was extremely impressed and excited to see the goals and plans for Idaho CAFE. I look forward to visiting the property for the research dairy in Rupert as it grows and develops.
John shared the following with me.
Wright — My involvement in the dairy industry started in 1974 when, as an adventurous young man, I came to Idaho’s Magic Valley with all my possessions stuffed in my car and got my first milking job on a 120-cow farm in Wendell. By the grace of God and meeting a lot of good people, I was able to start my own dairy in 1978 in a rented barn just outside Castleford. I eventually landed back in Wendell and built my own dairy with funding from FHA, Federal Land Bank and Idaho First. The adventure continued for 40 years until 2019 when I sold the cows and the place to contemplate the unthinkable — retirement.
Within a few months after this “change,” the University of Idaho College of Agricultural and Life Sciences approached me to consider applying for the role of CAFE project manager. I had become acquainted with the project through meetings CALS dean, Michael P. Parrella, had held throughout the state. I had served on a design committee for CAFE’s Discovery Complex component in Jerome and I was excited about the prospects of what could be. After some initial trepidation, wondering if they had lost their minds, I took the job because I thought, “Who wouldn’t?”
CAFE has three phases for the project, each separate with its own potential and hurdles to get over. It is a very ambitious project — not a fluff job by any means.
The first phase is a 2,000-cow research dairy north of Rupert. It will be the largest research dairy in the U.S. The size is important as we try to mirror an average Idaho dairy to produce research that is meaningful and relatable to the challenges the industry faces today. Idaho’s average dairy size is 1,500 cows so we need research that is done on a similar scale instead of trying to extrapolate from work conducted on a smaller number of cows.
Research in nutrient management will be a critical component for CAFE. The Net Zero initiative is a huge undertaking for the industry as it tries to meet new standards in greenhouse gas emissions. CAFE will help answer many questions around production practices, useful technology and which metrics can help us achieve the industry’s environmental goals.
The second phase is the Discovery Complex which will be located in Jerome at Crossroads Point. At this location, we are planning a facility that will tell the story of Idaho agriculture in an engaging way including hands-on exhibits, information about Idaho commodities, a store with Idaho food products and some fun. The goal is to have a place that people will want to visit multiple times as its exhibits continually change. There is potential for student dormitories, research labs and a classroom to also be located at the Discovery Complex.
The third phase is a food processing center where students can learn about the art, skill and safety of working with dairy products. This last phase will be a collaborative effort with the College of Southern Idaho.
My job as CAFE project manager is described in the last line of my contract: “any duties as needed to ensure a successful execution of the CAFE research dairy project.” I watch over the real estate, I take people to the real estate, I watch drones fly over the property, I attend dairy conferences to stay updated, I spout my opinion at design meetings, I stay ready to speak on behalf of CAFE, I talk to a lot of local people, give updates to the folks in Moscow, and sometimes I sweep 15,000 flies out of the shop in Rupert. I am living well.
The 2020 goals for CAFE have mostly been about fundraising and we have done well. We were scheduled to choose architects and contract managers and start the design process for the research dairy. We have. The Discovery Complex has its first design meeting. We are on our way.
There are some unforeseen challenges for CAFE as with any project, but we are always trying to think ahead. Funding is of upmost importance as there is so much we could do. The infrastructure at the dairy site needs to be figured out as far as roads and access are concerned and we need to think ahead about a workforce.
Again, this is an ambitious project. It is a real reach. But that is just a measure of how great this is going to be.