Catching Up with CALS —March 11, 2020
Dean's Message — Name Recognition
CALS deans have made the annual trip to attend the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities annual meeting in Washington, D.C., for decades. We meet with members of Idaho’s congressional delegation and higher education and federal government colleagues.
This year provided my most rewarding experience of my four visits so far representing CALS.
The reason was simple: everyone I spoke to knew about the Idaho Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment. CAFE is a known commodity.
With an actual site for the research dairy in hand and design work beginning, that combination of recognition and rapidly approaching reality makes the path ahead much more straight-forward.
Idaho’s representatives to the Council for Agricultural Research, Extension and Teaching (CARET) Mary L. Hasenoehrl and Pat Purdy also traveled to the capital to meet with officials and legislators.
Within the Idaho delegation, our mission is to keep legislators and their staff up to date on our efforts and needs. It helps tremendously that they already recognize the importance of agriculture to the state.
In terms of CAFE, that awareness is appreciated and valued.
The APLU meetings also offer members the chance to hear from and talk to top U.S. Department of Agriculture officials.
I had a conversation with one official who was amazed to hear that Idaho had risen to No. 3 nationally in milk production. Few lack awareness about the importance of Idaho’s potato industry, but on many other fronts, the state’s agricultural prowess remain hidden gems.
One reason is Idaho’s efficiency. Our farmers embraced productivity so completely that relatively few dairies yield more milk than many more, smaller dairies in other states.
Rounds of discussions with leaders of agencies provided similar opportunities to offer them perspective on our agricultural industry and how it fits nationally.
With the nation’s largest research dairy taking shape, many of those conversations took a more positive and productive tone.
Another factor may be Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s Agriculture Outlook Forum address in mid-February that detailed his interest in super farms. That was his term for large, productive, efficient operations with smaller environmental footprints.
It sounds a lot like modern Idaho agriculture, and that is what CAFE plans to offer — research and development support to sustain and improve.
Michael P. Parrella
College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
By the Numbers
1.33 billion pounds of milk flowed from Idaho’s dairies during January 2020, the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service reported recently. That’s a 3.7% or 48 million-pound increase from January 2019. Idaho’s milk cow herd grew to 640,000 cows, up 23,000 from January 2019’s tally of 617,000.
Our Stories — Dairyman to Guide CAFE Work
John W. Wright will serve as the University of Idaho’s project manager for the new $25 million research dairy near Rupert that will serve as the core of the Idaho Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment.
He retired last year from a 41-year career of growing and operating his own dairy near Wendell. Wright said those experiences give him a practiced ability to think through current challenges with insight on what might result decades from now.
“Forty years ago, I built my dairy when I was a young man full of vim and vigor,” Wright said. “And I made a lot of mistakes that over the years I got to look at every day and think, boy, why did I do that?”
He says that hindsight will be an asset in developing the research dairy.
Wright will represent the U of I College of Agricultural and Life Sciences as the design work proceeds and when construction begins. The university partnered with the Idaho Dairymen’s Association to buy land from the Whitesides family near Rupert a year ago. The Idaho State Board of Education authorized design work on the project earlier this year and construction is expected to begin in 2021. The first cows are expected to begin milking in 2024.
The 2,000-cow dairy will become the nation’s largest research dairy with the capacity to study issues associated with modern large-scale operations. It will be paired with an Idaho Agricultural Discovery Complex near Twin Falls and a related focus on food processing research.
The designers who will develop the dairy’s infrastructure and create the blueprints know what they’re doing, Wright said. What he can contribute is the practical experience that overseeing hundreds of cows and a workforce dedicated to their care can provide.
“It’s going to be some of the practical aspects of what I’ve done in my career that will hopefully help me advise on and catch some things,” he said.
Brent Olmstead, CALS director of government and external relations, said Wright’s experience and industry insight will serve him well in this new role. The two worked together through the Idaho Milk Producers Association and have known each other for decades.
“One of the main reasons John is in the position is because he is so well respected within the industry and well known in the Magic Valley community,” Olmstead said. “In a sense, we have a project manager and an ambassador.”
Beyond the demands of running his own dairy with more than 400 cows, Wright served on several dairy industry groups. “John understands dairy from a grassroots perspective, and for CAFE, that’s what we need to build and run a dairy beyond a strictly academic perspective,” Olmstead said.
Donation Triples Barr Museum's Scarabs
Ron McPeak lives a life many scientists and adventurers would envy.
He traveled the world collecting and photographing animals as diverse as the speckled rattlesnake of Baja California to the sacred scarab beetle of the Nile Valley.
McPeak visited Moscow in February to speak during the Pollinator Summit organized by UI Extension and to visit CALS’ William F. Barr Entomological Museum to help curator Luc Leblanc identify scarab beetles in the museum collection.
Many of those scarabs, some 13,000 specimens, were familiar to McPeak. He donated them.
His donation substantially increased the museum scarab collection’s total number, said curator Luc Leblanc.
Beyond that, it essentially tripled the number of species represented in the Barr museum. The reason was the museum’s collection previously focused on North American scarabs, accumulating about 1,000 species. Ron's donation included about 2,000 species, most of them exotic and new to the museum. Overall the museum now has over 35,000 scarab specimens in its collection.
Some scarabs live in Moscow, including June beetles, dung beetles and others that are important flower pollinators.
McPeak’s donation focused on scarabs from the other five continents where they’re found.
“It’s especially valuable to us because his collection focused on exotic species from South America, Asia, Africa and places we didn’t have specimens from before,” Leblanc said.
McPeak, who lives near Portland, chose the CALS museum to donate his collection to because he was confident it would be readily used for education and research. He donated his collection of North American specimens to the San Diego Natural History Museum where he is an entomology departmental associate.
Faces and Places
CALS Marketing Manager Amy Calabretta graduated in the most recent class of Leadership Idaho Agriculture.
An op-ed, "Why a go-it-alone approach to combatting the coronavirus won't work," by CALS Agricultural Economist Katherine Lee and colleague Kevin Berry of the University of Alaska Anchorage appeared in the Capitol Hill newspaper The Hill, March 1.
- March 16-20 — U of I Spring Break.
- March 5-26 — UI Extension and WSU Extension Banana Belt Backyard Gardening Series, register through UI Extension, Nez Perce County, firstname.lastname@example.org or 208-799-3096, Thursdays in Lewiston, 6-8 p.m.
- March 26 — CALS Awards nominations closes at 5 p.m.
- April 14-17 — UI Extension Annual Conference, including All-CALS Day, Moscow. Registration opens April 3.
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