The Idaho State Board of Education approved a plan Thursday to create the nation’s largest research dairy, in Minidoka County in southeastern Idaho near Rupert.

The board’s vote will allow the University of Idaho to purchase land for the Idaho Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment. The university will pay $2.5 million, and the Idaho dairy industry will add $2 million toward the purchase of 540 acres from members of the Whitesides family, who will donate another parcel of land.

Carly Schoepflin, director for communications and strategic initiatives at the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, explained that Thursday’s appropriation goes toward purchase of the land only. The overall project, estimated at $45 million, will include a dairy, an outreach and education center and a food processing component.

The Idaho Legislature approved $10 million in 2017 from the state’s permanent building fund for the project once it gets underway, Schoepflin said.

“They want to see progress before they come up with the additional $5 million later on,” she said.

Another third of the money for future expansion will come from the university, expected from property sales, with the remaining third contributed from dairy industry partners.

Michael P. Parrella, dean of the College of Agricultural and Life Science, said Thursday’s vote by the state board “moves Idaho agriculture a giant step forward in providing a transformational education and research opportunity. With a site chosen and land acquired, we are confident this will accelerate the project.”

Rick Naerebout, chief executive of the Idaho Dairy Association, said the dairy’s focus will be on the environmental aspect of research and being able to meet consumer expectations.

Dairy industry members first began working with the university 15 years ago on this project and dedicated funding to it. Since then, Idaho’s dairy industry has grown to rank third nationally in milk production. Much of that growth has taken place in south central Idaho’s Magic Valley, near Jerome, Gooding, Twin Falls, Cassia and Minidoka counties.

University economists have projected that milk sales in 2018 totaled $2.36 billion, which is a third of Idaho agriculture’s total cash receipts.

Hedberg may be contacted at kathyhedberg@gmail.com or (208) 983-2326.

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