EDEN — When word got out that Idaho’s Legislature had set aside money for a $45 million agricultural research center in Magic Valley, many rejoiced — until it became clear a 2,000-head dairy was involved.
Nearly 40 percent of Idaho’s $10.4 billion dairy industry comes from dairies that milk 1,000 head or more. The sheer thought of yet another dairy, even one that would be the largest research dairy in the U.S., has some in eastern Jerome County reeling.
Not in my backyard, they say.
For its Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (CAFE), the University of Idaho did a feasibility study comparing two sites in Jerome County: a dairy farm north of Jerome on U.S. 93 and farmland bordering Interstate 84, east of Skeleton Butte. The study concluded it would be too expensive to retrofit an existing dairy, so the university has decided to start from scratch on bare ground.
Suitable land for the CAFE hasn’t been found yet — not in Jerome County or any county in Magic Valley, said Bill Loftus, spokesman for the UI College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. There still exists a remote possibility that it will be built in Jerome county, however, propelling residents in and around Eden into action.
“We don’t want a stinking dairy near the freeway,” Eden-area resident Judy Holland said. “We are all furious.”
Mayor Larry Craig is retired but owns a construction company that does work on local dairies.
“I’m real familiar with dairies,” Craig said. But as mayor, he hasn’t taken a stand for or against the CAFE.
The proposed dairy plans include a rotary milking parlor and high-tech equipment that records and monitors each cow’s milk production. The CAFE will also include large-scale research facilities for crop, nutrient and water-management studies, and a dormitory for students.
Eden’s City Council has drawn up a proposal for an area of impact around the town that would include the farmland — owned by Art Henry — included in the university’s feasibility study. The city will present the proposal, an updated version of an old plan that fell through the cracks years ago, at a public hearing before it’s sent to Jerome County commissioners. As of September, the hearing had not been scheduled.
The impact area boundaries proposed by the city would encompass nearly 16 square miles around Eden, from Tipperary Road north of the interstate to Bureau of Land Management ground north of town, and from 1400 East to Valley Road, Craig said. The proposal would also add commercial, residential and industrial zones to the impact area.
The city’s main objective is preserving farmland, he said, as too much land is being eaten up by subdivisions.
“If we run out of farmland,” he said, “there won’t be any crops to process.”