Food production and processing contribute $2.2 billion to Idaho’s gross state product. As many as 51,000 Idaho jobs can be linked to the dairy industry. An increase in these industries also presents growing challenges including nutrient management and water quantity and quality concerns.
Research underway at the University of Idaho is helping dairies to become more sustainable while also helping the industry grow.
The dairy will have a herd size of 2,000 animals (average size of a herd in Idaho) and will be located in the heart of the state’s dairy producing region. While research data generated at CAFE will have broad implications across the U.S., the semi-arid environment where most of Idaho’s dairies are located will make CAFE’s research indispensable in the water-constrained West. CAFE’s location, herd size sand research scope make it uniquely positioned to address real-world issues facing the dairy and food processing industries.
Through applied research, outreach and teaching, the Idaho Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment will be a sustainable agriculture system focused on providing global solutions to ongoing issues facing agriculture, food, the environment and society now and for years to come.
Research Dairy, and Water and Soil Health Demonstration Farm
- Located in Rupert — Minidoka County, the core of CAFE is a 2,000-cow commercial scale dairy. The site also consists of 1,200 additional acres for complementary agronomic research, feed production and nutrient management. This location will allow CAFE to engage stakeholders who want to better understand the interactions between dairy and water and soil health.
Discover Complex at Crossroad Point
- Located in Jerome — Jerome County at the interchange of I-84 and Highway 93, the center will sit at the second busiest intersection in Idaho where 40,000 cars pass through daily. This location provides the potential for the center to become a destination location for tourists and the general public while reinforcing the University of Idaho’s land grant mission.
- The complex will provide a window into agriculture, food production, water, power and energy, and provide an opportunity for the public to learn from ongoing research. It will include an interactive discovery space, conference rooms, labs and offices for faculty, classrooms, student dorms and an animal pavilion.
Food Processing Pilot Plant
- Located in Twin Falls — Twin Falls County on the College of Southern Idaho (CSI) campus, the Food Processing Pilot Plant will enhance CSI’s existing workforce development and educational programs and serve as the location for food processing and safety research.
Animal Related and Environmental Research
The sustainability of the dairy industry relies on the ability to address concerns regarding the health and welfare of animals in commercial dairies and tackle issues related to a dairy’s “footprint” or environmental impact. These efforts will require a balanced approach between increasing productivity and efficiency while maintaining a sustainable ecosystem. Research involving multiple disciplines will:
- Determine best practices ensuring animal health and welfare with high-quality milk production
- Evaluate feed ingredients to meet requirements for good health and productivity
- Implement robotic systems into herd management and milking and evaluate long-term use
- Assess alternative housing systems to improve cow comfort and longevity
- Examine low-stress handling and transportation
- Evaluate systems to efficiently deliver irrigation water and nutrient management
- Create value-added byproducts from waste materials
The Magic Valley region produces some of the highest quality crops in the country. To sustain this standard in production, CAFE will explore the relationships between animal and crop agriculture — an interdependent connection in the Magic Valley. Agronomic research will:
- Find economical approaches to promote water and soil quality
- Assess alternative feeds which may require less use of chemicals and water in production of feed ingredients
- Improve feed production through use of integrated pest management, and better management of soil health, irrigation practices and use of renewable energy technologies
- Evaluate approaches to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from dairies
- Analyze policy and legal approaches promoting environmental protections
Food Science Research
Research in multiple disciplines can contribute to innovations in food safety and quality to:
- Improve dairy management to ensure safe production, transport and handling of milk
- Identify processing and production innovation to reduce food safety risks
- Innovate new products with functional food and other healthful attributes
- Improve engineering in food processing to maximize food quality and safety
- Reduce the environmental impact of food processing
- Train current and future employees for the food processing industry
Outreach and Education
Facilitated through the Outreach and Education Center at Crossroads Point in Jerome, CAFE will provide extensive opportunities to engage with the community. Some of these efforts will:
- Expand vocational training programs for the community
- Increase awareness and knowledge of the industry for the local community
- Provide continuing education for producers and farmworkers through on-site workshops, online activities and professional meetings
- Encourage dialogue among ethicists, behaviorists, dairy scientists and veterinarians to communicate findings to the public
A strong partnership with the College of Southern Idaho and many of their faculty involved in agricultural programming and workforce development will allow CAFE to address industry employment needs across the spectrum. A partnership between the U of I and CSI will:
- Expand educational offerings for place bound students
- Increase the shared degree options between U of I and CSI
- Offer continuing education opportunities for those already in the workforce
- Enhance worker safety training
- Build a pipeline of educated students prepared to enter the workforce
Agricultural production associated with dairy in Idaho impacts Idahoans’ quality of life in many ways. CAFE research will improve sustainability in the industry by enabling producers, dairies and food processors to adopt practices and policies to meet the sustainability requirements of their customers.
CAFE research will also address the economic, social and cultural sustainability of rural communities and diverse populations as well as the quality and sustainability of air, land and water resources of the rural communities impacted by the dairy industry.
Additionally, research through CAFE will support the economic vitality of agricultural and food production by expanding markets and food products to increase Idaho’s GDP. CAFE will encourage the development of innovative new food products and product attributes, along with identifying new market opportunities nationally and internationally.
Major grant activity is currently taking place to support these efforts including a $10 million grant proposal to the Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE).
The dairy itself will be overseen by five herd and operations staff members, and the University of Idaho plans to locate 12 to 14 existing and new faculty and staff positions at CAFE to conduct studies and outreach activities.
Faculty expertise will address issues in the following disciplines:
- Dairy product
- Herd health
- Reproductive physiology
- Ruminant nutrition
- Veterinary entomology
- Air quality
- Bioenergy production
- Civil and/or mechanical engineering
- Crop/water modeling
- Data management and/or visualization
- Water systems management
- Agricultural economy
- Agricultural education
- Extension education
- Rural sociology
- Science communication
- Cropping systems agronomy
- Forage crop agronomy
- Soil science
- Food safety microbiology
- Sensory food processing
The Idaho Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment is at the beginning stages of property ownership, design and construction for all three locations included in the project.
- March 2019 — Land for the dairy purchased in partnership with the Idaho Dairymen’s Association
- July 2019 — Land to be purchased for discovery complex
- Design work for both the research dairy and discovery complex
- Fundraising efforts to support the development of the project
- Discussions with College of Southern Idaho to develop the food processing pilot plant and shared educational offerings, first classes in Fall ‘19
- 2023 — Discovery complex welcomes first visitors
- 2024 — First cows milked at the dairy