New U Of I Facility In Parma To Help Farmers Adapt To A Changing World

Published online: Feb 27, 2024 Articles John O'Connell, University of Idaho
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Parma, Idaho — Leaders with University of Idaho’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) and supporters dedicated a new laboratory in Parma on Feb. 20 that promises to advance crop science and technology, helping farmers adapt to a changing world.  

More than 200 stakeholders attended the grand opening of the 9,600-square-foot Idaho Center for Plant and Soil Health, which replaces aging and dilapidated facilities at the U of I Parma Research and Extension Center. The university’s new state-of-the-art building contains laboratory space for research in nematology, pomology, plant pathology, microbiology and hops quality.  

“This facility is going to give farm families and farm companies all over the nation and particularly all over the state of Idaho the tools they need to be survivors and actually thrive in the face of changing challenges, whether they be climate challenges, whether they be consumer challenges or whether they be all of the challenges that we know exist every day,” Gov. Brad Little, ’77, agribusiness, said during the ceremony.  

CALS launched the campaign to construct the $12.1 million facility in 2019. Construction was made possible thanks to $3 million in donations from agricultural stakeholders, in addition to investment from the university and the state of Idaho.  

The grand opening of the Parma facility builds upon recent progress within CALS toward opening new facilities to ensure a bright and sustainable future for Idaho agriculture, including the ongoing construction of the Idaho Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (Idaho CAFE) in Rupert, which will include the nation’s largest research dairy.   

“This addition to our footprint is really a transformational addition when you add the work being done here now and into the future to what we can accomplish when the nation’s largest research dairy in the Magic Valley is finished,” said Chandra Zenner Ford, center executive officer for U of I Boise and Southwestern Idaho. “University of Idaho is positioned to be a place to look for cutting-edge discoveries and innovation in agriculture that will have a global impact.” 

The Parma center’s history traces back more than a century to 1922. In 2009, the center was nearly shuttered due to declining budgets. However, key stakeholders banded together to form the Treasure Valley Agriculture Coalition and partnered with the state to keep it open. Many of the same stakeholders were involved in the campaign to invest in the new facility.   

“We are all in agreement that the key thing that made this possible was partnership,” said Michael P. Parrella, dean of CALS. “No one entity can accomplish a project like this alone.” 

Jon and Margie Watson, with the Parma-based onion packing, production and marketing company J.C. Watson Packing Co., were instrumental in the effort to keep the Parma center operating — and more recently to improve its facilities. 

“This center has been the cornerstone of agriculture and research and education for a century, but like any living organism growth depends on renewal,” Margie Watson said. “Let’s celebrate this renewal.”  

CALS has raised about 85 percent of the necessary funding to establish an endowed chair position in nematology that will be based at Parma and will honor Saad Hafez, a longtime Extension specialist and professor of nematology who is nearing retirement.  

Farmers in the Parma area raise 118 different crops, ranking it among the nation’s most diverse agricultural production areas. Parrella is optimistic that the new facility will help CALS attract world-class faculty to conduct continued research benefiting many of those crops.  

“When I think about this facility and what we’ve accomplished, I view it as only being the beginning in the sense this should be a launching pad to even greater things moving forward,” Parrella said.