Dairy Cows

Dairy cows graze on feed in Cassia County earlier this year.

JEROME — The University of Idaho has bought more property for its massive research dairy, locking in a Jerome site for a public visitor center, housing, faculty offices and classrooms for the Idaho Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (CAFE).

“This is a significant step,” Bill Loftus, science writer for the U of I College of Ag and Life Sciences, said.

The property, which will be called the Discovery Complex, is at the intersection of Interstate 84 and U.S. Highway 93, which is one of the busiest interchanges in Idaho. The Discover Complex will be one of three Magic Valley sites that will make up the CAFE, and will serve as the public face of the project.

“It’s going to really tell the public the agricultural story,” Jim Miller, U of I College of Ag Director of Development and Capital Projects Analyst, said. “We hope to make it a destination.”

CAFE will be the largest research dairy in the world. The university aims to start milking cows in 2024, and hopes to have the Discovery Complex open by 2023.

Work on the CAFE began over a decade ago.

The newest CAFE property purchase is the second in 2019. Back in February U of I and the Idaho Dairymen’s Association bought land in Rupert from the Whitesides family for $4.5 million. Those 540 acres will serve as the actual dairy site. The entire project is expected to cost $45 million between the different locations.

At 2,000 head, the aim is to have a research dairy capable of modeling large dairies in the Magic Valley and throughout the U.S. It’s important to have that scale in order to conduct research that mirrors today’s enormous farms.

“Dairies are growing larger, and the complexity grows with size,” Loftus said.

Other research dairies typically have no more than a couple hundred cows, while Idaho’s average dairy is about 1,300 cows.

Faculty members and students will study dairy robots, too, which is another reason the CAFE needs 2,000 cows to study.

“You need that many cows to do research into robotics,” Miller said.

While the whole CAFE won’t be done for another five years, there is some work already underway. The university has already begun testing soils to ensure it has an accurate baseline for decades-long studies.

Long-term research will be an important goal for the CAFE. Loftus said the plan is to have studies that last 30 to 50 years.

The CAFE won’t just be for dairy research. The third location will be at the College of Southern Idaho and will focus on food processing research and training. There are also more than 600 acres of crop land associated with the Rupert dairy, which will also be studied.

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