Published online: Jun 04, 2012 Potato Harvesting, Herbicide, Irrigation, Fertilizer, Insecticide, Fungicide, Seed Potatoes
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PARMA, Idaho-Both University of Idaho and J.R. Simplot Co. officials say they're happy with a five-year, $1.5 million agreement that has enabled Parma Research and Extension Center to remain open.

In its third year, the agreement commits Simplot to give the university research station $300,000 a year for five years. In exchange, Simplot gets access to 50 acres for field crop research.

Mike Thornton, superintendent of the research station, said the deal is responsible for keeping the 200-acre site open. It was one of three UI research stations around the state targeted for closure three years ago when the state reduced funding to UI's research and extension budget by $4.7 million.

The money Simplot provides the Parma center is used to pay for station operations, staff salaries and some research costs.

"The station was slated to be closed, so if we had not gotten some outside funding, it would not be operational right now," Thornton said. "It provides us a good base of funding that pays most of our day-to-day operating expenses."

The station also receives about $80,000 a year from the Treasure Valley Ag Coalition and the fruit industry. Thornton said the outside support from ag groups and Simplot has strengthened ties between industry and the center.

"It's given us more direct industry involvement in the programs that are here," he said. "I think we've got closer industry ties maybe than we did three years ago."

The deal has allowed Simplot to do variety evaluations for corn and potatoes, evaluate fertilizer technology and demonstrate the technology to customers. The company has also been studying new drip-irrigated applications for onions.

Terry Tindall, Simplot's manager of agronomy, said the company is interested in expanding its potato variety trials and especially its drip-irrigation work.

"Drip irrigation is becoming an ever-increasing system of management for local growers," he said. "With the cooperative relationship between (Simplot and UI), this work will continue to get the interest it deserves."

Thornton said that besides allowing the center to retain its programs, the agreement has also brought in some new research dollars, as Parma researchers have performed several third-party evaluations for possible Simplot customers.

"We may not have had that research if we hadn't had this relationship," he said.

Both parties say they're interested in discussing expanding the deal beyond five years.

"I think that is something that both sides are ready to start exploring," Thornton said.

Tindall said there is a good possibility that Simplot will continue to move forward with the joint venture.

SOURCE: Sean Ellis, Capital Press