TWIN FALLS — Cows on a merry-go-round. Coffee cups made out of manure. The University of Idaho’s Center for Food Agriculture and the Environment (CAFE) research dairy has big plans.
Business Plus members were updated on the project at its quarterly meeting by Brent Olmstead, University of Idaho College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ director of government and external relations.
“Rather than studying the front end of the cow, we want to do a lot of studies on the back end of the cow,” Olmstead said. “That’s where most of the problems are.”
The dairy will hold 2,000 cows and provide researchers with opportunities to study animal health, manure, water usage and more.
In July the university selected the DeLaval rotary milking system to be installed after the dairy is completed. Olmstead said this system is reflective of where the industry is headed in terms of robotic milking.
University of Idaho researchers have also been on-site in Rupert, collecting soil samples to create a baseline before cows arrive on the property. So far they have taken 8 tons of soil, he said.
CAFE consists of three parts: the research dairy and soil health demonstration farm in Rupert, the discovery complex Jerome, and a food processing plant on the College of Southern Idaho’s campus in Twin Falls.
“The purpose here is sustainability for the dairy industry and for agriculture in general,” Olmstead said.
The entire project will cost over $45 million.
Olmstead said they have received multiple grants for different research topics. Anheuser-Busch gave CAFE $200,000 to study irrigation and water efficiency. The United States Department of Agriculture gave CAFE $10 million to study manure usage including alternative products. The university has a researcher who is studying how to make plastics out of manure.
University of Idaho gets $10 million to study manure — and the research could someday help dairy farmers make more money.
“I don’t want to know that my Starbucks iced tea cup is made from manure,” Olmstead said to a laughing audience. “But ignorance is bliss sometimes.”
John Wright was named as the CAFE dairy project manager in 2020. A retired dairyman himself, Wright is excited to take his experience and apply it to a project with far-reaching impacts.
Retired Wendell dairyman John Wright will manage the University of Idaho's 2,000-head research dairy near Rupert.
For example, the U.S. dairy industry has a goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Wright said it would be difficult for a small farmer to study how to meet that goal.
“You have just given him a huge job,” Wright said. “How is he equipped to do that?”
A dairy that isn’t reliant on profits will have the time to study questions related to greenhouses gasses and sustainability.
After the dairy, the first building built in Jerome will be the education center. It will serve as a tourist stop where people can learn about what it takes to bring a desert to life, Olmstead said.
He envisions displays on sugar beets or how water moves through canals.
Following that, future plans call for a community arena, laboratory’s and a possible dormitory.
The third and final component of CAFE is the food processing plant. This space will help train the workforce for the industry including programs on safety.