U-IDAHO News: Parma Prepares for Another Research Season

Published online: May 03, 2010 University of Idaho, Bill Loftus
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PARMA - Spring work is proceeding at the University of Idaho's Parma Research and Extension Center as field hands wrap up planting potatoes and sugarbeets and preparing fields for later plantings of corn and other crops. "Right now, we're right in the middle of things," said Mike Thornton, Parma R&E Center superintendent. The center is in its first year of implementing a new five-year research agreement announced in December with the J.R. Simplot Co. The company's support is the largest single new source of funding for the center this growing season. Another five-year agreement with fruit growers provides another $250,000 of support for orchard and vineyard research. The J.R. Simplot Co. will conduct research on about 13 acres of the 100 acres of cropland this spring in cooperation with university researchers, Thornton said. University crews will also help the company conduct research on about 2 acres of its Arena Valley site. Last May, the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences was preparing to shut down field operations at the center in response to legislative budget reductions unless other support could be found to offset the losses. Political and community support for the center's continued operations helped generate financial support that has the center on firmer footing as this year's growing season advances. The J.R. Simplot Co. was the first to step forward, reaching a five-year, $1.5 million agreement with the university to support its research at the center and general center operations. The Treasure Valley Agricultural Coalition, a group representing some of the center's staunchest allies, also contributed $65,000 to fund center operations through this year. "The Treasure Valley Agricultural Coalition's support for the center is essential to its ability to serve the agricultural industry. The support also demonstrates the community's commitment to maintaining a valuable asset," said Rich Garber, governmental relations director for the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. Garber serves as co-chairman of an advisory committee established with the Treasure Valley Agricultural Coalition. Jon Watson, who owns an onion packing business at Parma that has been family operated for four generations, serves as the committee's chairman. The Treasure Valley Agricultural Coalition is working toward contributing another $65,000, Watson said, for an overall commitment of $130,000 for two years to support center operations through 2011. "We're encouraged by the ability to continue a historic partnership and maintain a valuable research enterprise that is important to agriculture in the Treasure Valley and the state's economy," Watson said. The Parma Research and Extension Center is part of a statewide network operated by the Idaho Agricultural Experiment Station. Donn Thill, a University of Idaho professor of weed science and the station's assistant director, said the private support is a vital part of the center's overall operating budget. State funding contributes more than half of the center's $1.2 million operating budget by supporting six faculty researchers who work at Parma. Grants, gifts and contracts contribute most of the remaining funds. "State support remains an important part of the budget and ensures that we have the personnel who are the reason we operate the Parma Research and Extension Center in the first place," Thill said. "In the current financial climate, however, the state and university alone cannot continue to operate research programs in the same way we did in the past," Thill added, "which makes private support and partnerships essential." In addition to the agreements with the Simplot Co., fruit industry and Treasure Valley Agricultural Coalition, the center's researchers received two-year specialty crop grants through the Idaho State Department of Agriculture this year totaling about $330,000 to support three projects to study: · Sustainable production methods for new potato varieties · Establish two new orchards for new apple variety trials · Test new table grape varieties and improve fruit quality The challenge for the Parma Research and Extension Center and others in the university's system will be to ensure that financial support continues and allows for researches to operate sustainable programs, Thill said. # # # About the University of Idaho Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state's flagship higher-education institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year; the University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation ranking for high research activity. The university's student population includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars. Offering more than 130 degree options in 10 colleges, the university combines the strengths of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. The university is home to the Vandals, the 2009 Roady's Humanitarian Bowl champions. For information, visit http://www.uidaho.edu .