EDEN — Folks in the east end of Jerome County are riled up about the possibility of a new dairy coming to the area.
“We don’t want a stinking dairy near the freeway,” said Judy Holland, who lives a mile south of the Interstate 84 south of Eden.
Holland is not alone in her sentiments. “We are all furious,” she said.
But such hostility is premature, Jerome County commissioners say.
The dairy residents are worried about is not an ordinary dairy operation: It’s the University of Idaho’s Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment — CAFE — a $45 million world-class agricultural research facility to be funded by the state legislature, the university and private industry.
“There’s a lot of objecting going on about nothing,” Commissioner Roger Morley said Thursday. The university has not purchased land for the facility nor has it chosen a location.
Several dozen county residents showed up at Eden’s July City Council meeting, said Larry Hall, executive director of Jerome 20/20 Inc., after hearing rumors that the university had purchased a thousand acres of Art Henry’s farmland near the interstate, east of Skeleton Butte, for a 2,000-cow dairy.
Folks in the area are worried about odors from the dairy, groundwater depletion and damage to roads, Holland said.
Hall tried to put people’s concerns — and the rumors — to rest, he said Friday.
The university used Henry’s farm ground and White Clover Dairy north of Idaho Highway 25 on U.S. 93 to complete feasibility studies for the CAFE. Retrofitting the existing dairy proved to be too costly, Hall said. Starting from scratch on bare ground is the most logical plan.
But that is as far as plans have gone. If the university chooses a site in Jerome County, the proposal would have to go through the normal county zoning requirements needed for a special use permit including several public hearings, said Planning and Zoning Administrator Art Brown. No paperwork has come across his desk yet, he said.
“This won’t go through without the public’s involvement,” Morley said. “I promise.”
The Idaho legislature set aside $10 million for the project this year and is expected to throw in another $5 million. But the university won’t see any of that money until it liquidates $15 million worth of land it already owns, plus finds another $15 million from private sources.
The proposed dairy plans include a rotary milking parlor and high-tech equipment that records and monitors each cow’s milk production. Some beef cattle research will be included.
The CAFE will also include large-scale research facilities for crop, nutrient and water-management studies, and a dormitory for students. The facility would be the largest in the nation and the best in the world, said Michael Parrella, dean of the university’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
The project began as part of the university’s agriculture department, but Parrella wants to involve other departments, such as the colleges of Natural Resources and of Business and Economics.
“I think there’s an opportunity for the whole campus to be engaged from an educational perspective,” he recently told the Times-News. Other universities are showing interest in the project, which could begin construction in 2019.
Ideally the CAFE will be placed within 20 to 25 miles of the College of Southern Idaho’s campus in Twin Falls, putting it in the heart of Idaho’s dairy country, Commissioner Charlie Howell said. Much of Jerome County would fit the bill.
Commissioners “support any new business that comes in if it’s appropriate for the county,” Howell said.
“This won’t go through without the public’s involvement. I promise.” Jerome County Commissioner Roger Morley