Jan 8, 2010
Idaho Fruit Research Program Saved by Private Funds

The fruit research program at the Parma, Idaho, Research and Extension Center has been saved from elimination – and the station itself saved from closure – by an industry benefactor with little interest in fruit.

The benefactor is the J.R. Simplot Company, which has agreed to put up $1.5 million – $300,000 a year for five years – and in return Simplot will receive use of the facilities for crop research and development.

Simplot has interests in corn, potatoes, alfalfa forage and cereal grains and has operations in several countries. The privately held agribusiness firm headquartered in Boise, Idaho, is active in phosphate mining, fertilizer manufacturing, farming, cattle production, food processing, food brands and other agricultural enterprises.

The novel private-public arrangement was approved in mid-December by Simplot and the board of regents of the University of Idaho.

Esmaeil “Essie” Fallahi, the fruit researcher whose programs in wine and table grapes, irrigation and tree fruits were threatened by the university’s announced intention to close the facility, said the saving of the orchards and fruit research program was an unintended benefit from the Simplot contribution.

Fallahi said the money will keep the laboratories open and research plots operating, will keep the technicians in their jobs to maintain and work on the programs, and will allow the researchers to continue their work. The researchers were slated to be moved to a different facility without laboratories or research fields and the technicians were to be laid off.

Growers in the fruit industry in Idaho had shown a tremendous outpouring of moral support for the Parma programs, Fallahi said, and they are also stepping forward with funding to support the orchard and vineyard program.

On Dec. 16, Jerry Henggeler, co-chairman of the tree fruit research committee of the Idaho Horticultural Society, said he was waiting a response from the University of Idaho on a proposal that would add “a fairly significant amount” of funding for fruit-related operations at the Parma station. Details were being kept quiet until the agreement details are made final.

Henggeler, whose family operates Henggeler Packing Co. and apple, cherry, plum and peach orchards near Fruitland, Idaho, said the new money will be in addition to the what has been going to the Parma station to fund research for more than 20 years. The research committee reviews research proposals ¬– and makes new proposals – for research on table grapes, apples, cherries and soft fruits.

Another group is working to provide supplementary funding for field crop research at the station, Henggeler said.

Fruit Growers News reported last August on the threatened closure of the Parma station. The furor led to the intervention from the state’s governor and the university’s new president. They temporarily canceled the closure plan, which was to take effect Dec. 31, and said they would investigate alternative solutions. The university budget is under intense pressure, and cuts are being made.

“We thank the regents for their favorable reaction to this public-private collaboration,” said university President Duane Nellis after a meeting of the regents Dec. 10. “We also extend our thanks to the J.R. Simplot Company for joining the University of Idaho in this thoughtful assessment of how our combined expertise and interests can serve the state’s agricultural industry. This agreement could serve as a model for bringing private industry and the public sector together in ways that will lead and enhance Idaho’s economic development in new ways.”

“The University of Idaho and J.R. Simplot Company have had a long and proud history of providing leadership to the state and its agricultural industry,” said University of Idaho President Duane Nellis.”This innovative agreement aligns the research and knowledge expertise of Idaho’s land-grant university with the business acumen of one of the state’s most respected industry leaders and marks a new era in public-private collaboration in Idaho agricultural research. This is an Idaho-grown partnership that will pay long-term dividends to the state’s economy.”
The agreement and report are the latest steps in a long-term consolidation and restructuring plan begun early last year for the state-funded Agricultural Research and Extension Service in response to legislative budget cuts and gubernatorial holdback directives that already total $4.7 million or 17 percent. Three research centers were slated for closure.

“The Simplot agreement and financial support from other agricultural interests are examples of alternative ways to meet Idaho agriculture’s critical needs that university officials pledged to seek when plans were announced to close the three centers. The agreement is critical to maintaining operations at the Parma center,” said John Hammel, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences dean at Moscow.

“Simplot has, through this agreement, acquired rights to access research land and also provide upkeep and maintenance, which is a separate and compact agreement,” Hammel said.

The agreement states that Simplot’s stand-alone research and the resulting intellectual property would be retained by the company.

The university will continue to conduct its separately funded field crop research at the Parma Center alongside of, but separate from, the company’s proprietary research conducted under the agreement.

University officials do not anticipate any reduction of field crop research availability to others who have funded research at the Parma Center and wish to continue to do so.

The agreement addresses 50 acres, half of the center’s cropland used for research. It does not address orchard or vineyard research that is conducted elsewhere at the center. Parma sits on a total of 200 acres.

Hammel said encouraging conversations continue to maintain the orchard and vineyard with the Treasure Valley’s tree fruit industry and the Treasure Valley Agricultural Coalition.

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