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Sluggish fundraising slows Idaho research center

December 28, 2009

[Source: Idaho State Journal and AgWeekly]

POCATELLO, Idaho – The sour economy and plummeting real-estate values are hampering efforts to raise money for a proposed $37 million livestock and dairy research center near Twin Falls.

In 2007, proponents of the University of Idaho-run center hoped it could be operating by 2008 or 2009.

But the dairy industry has raised just $800,000 of its promised $5 million contribution. Meanwhile, the UI’s plan to sell state land in Caldwell where its Caine Veterinary Teaching and Research Center is located to help raise $20 million has hit a snag because land values have declined precipitously.

Livestock industry officials remain optimistic that the Idaho Center for Livestock and Environmental Studies will be built, calling it a critical component of their plans to conform to stricter environmental standards that govern big feedlots. Researchers at the center, if and when it’s completed, are expected to work with the industry to develop better ways to dispose of cow feces and benefit Idaho’s environment.

“I see this as being a great thing for small producers to help them stay in environmental compliance,” Bob Naerebout, executive director of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, told the State Journal.

Naerebout is hopeful livestock and dairy companies will come up with the rest of their $5 million share in 2010.

The dairy and beef cattle industries are the state’s largest agricultural commodities. Dairy cash receipts in Idaho totaled $2.1 billion in 2008, while beef cattle receipts totaled $1.2 billion in 2008.

Still, both industries are hurting: Across the country, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has started to process emergency payments to dairy farmers struggling with low milk prices. Idaho farmers are also participating in a national buyout program paid for by the dairy industry meant to prop up prices.

And the beef cattle industry has said people are eating less of their products amid a general economic downturn. Last year at this time, demand for beef was down 2 to 3 percent. It’s now off by 10 percent.

The Idaho Legislature has authorized $10 million for the 1,500-acre research center to be located in the Magic Valley, the heart of Idaho’s dairy industry. It would be owned and overseen by the University of Idaho, which would move the Caine center’s operations to the new facility.

The facility would include an 1,800-head dairy operation, as well as a 600-head beef cattle feedlot. The plan is for the facility to be self-sustaining, by selling the milk it produces.

In an update published earlier this month, UI President Duane Nellis said the university is still committed to building the center, but it could take longer than expected. It’s possible the school could sell additional land to come up with its share.

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