meta Construction of the biggest research dairy in the country has begun at U of I. :: The Bullvine - The Dairy Information You Want To Know When You Need It

Construction of the biggest research dairy in the country has begun at U of I.

Excavation teams have begun preparing the ground for the University of Idaho-led Idaho Centre for Agriculture, Food, and the Environment (Idaho CAFE), which will contain the nation’s biggest research dairy.

On May 4, earthmoving started. Construction workers will begin pouring cement for the milking parlour once the location has been prepped. The first cows are expected to arrive at Idaho CAFE by the end of 2024, with milking beginning in early 2025.

The University of Idaho and its partners had wanted to begin construction last summer, but have enjoyed the benefits of their decision to postpone erecting Idaho CAFE, giving time for expensive construction prices to reduce. The cost of constructing the project’s first phase, which will comprise a 2,000-cow dairy next to a 640-acre research farm, fell by almost $4 million during the gap after the project’s ceremonial groundbreaking on June 30, 2022.

“The outlook is very bright,” Mark McGuire, director of the Idaho Agricultural Experiment Station, said. “The lower bids indicate that we have enough funds to complete this project.”

McAlvain Construction of Boise proposed delaying the start of construction and rebidding the subcontracts throughout the winter, betting that labour and material prices would fall and a more competitive field of bidders would emerge. The tactic paid well, since bids from subcontractors for a larger scope of work recently came in much lower than last summer’s figures.

Last summer, fuel costs were high, and excavating firms were busy. For the excavating task, U of I got a single offer. In contrast, many excavating firms competed for the most recent offer. Supply chain limitations have been loosened, resulting in more economical materials like concrete.

“This has been such a long time coming, and the excitement last year at the groundbreaking was just overwhelming with how many people showed up,” said Tammie Newman, McAlvain’s director of pre-construction. “It was probably the most well-attended groundbreaking I’d ever attended.” The dream is become a reality. I was overjoyed when they emailed me a photo of all of the equipment on site, ready to start moving soil.”

The milk barn should be built swiftly, but putting cutting-edge technology in the milking parlour will take longer.

The design for the project’s second phase should be finished this summer, with the bidding procedure taking place from September to November. on phase two, there will be waste treatment facilities and lagoons, a maternity barn, a feed area, an office building and buildings to give shade and wind protection for cows on a dry lot with many research pens.

The better fiscal picture also allows for the completion of a third phase — a cross-ventilated barn capable of hosting 800 to 1,200 cows. The barn would improve cow comfort and be valuable in research comparing the productivity and environmental consequences of barn vs dry-lot agriculture. Work on the barn would most likely begin in 2025, with the dairy progressively increasing its occupancy during the first several years.

Beyond the improving building cost prognosis, Idaho CAFE has lately gained traction. The budget that was just enacted by Idaho’s House and Senate includes cash for the facility to recruit a ruminant nutritionist, a fodder expert, and an air-quality engineer.

Since the beginning of 2023, Cargill and Burley-based Redox Bio-Nutrients have each announced $500,000 commitments to CAFE, bringing the total industry contributions to the project to over $9 million.

The Idaho Board of property Commissioners allocated $23.25 million from the sale of University of Idaho College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) endowment property in Caldwell that was no longer utilised for experimental farming to fund Idaho CAFE in September 2022. In 2018, the state legislature granted $10 million for the project.

The Idaho Dairymen’s Association also provided $2 million to the acquisition of lands near Rupert for the plant.

“Without the support, first and foremost, of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, we wouldn’t have been able to purchase that site, and now, with all of these other allied industry partners coming on board, we will be able to build a facility that will meet the needs of the dairy industry and serve the citizens of Idaho,” McGuire said.

CAFE research will aid in the development of solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from animals, living areas, waste systems, and in-field applications, therefore furthering the dairy industry’s countrywide net zero effort. The plant will also look for markets for dairy waste, which might be converted into useful byproducts like bioplastics and transportable fertilisers.

The facility will be built with adaptability in mind. As the project wins further money, more choices for adding other components and addressing a broader range of scientific and research problems will become available.

“The manure handling system is designed to be flexible so that we can add new components and test them as new technology emerges,” McGuire said. “A methane digestor can also be installed.” If it works, we may leave it running, or we can disconnect it and replace it with something else.”

Over $13 million in grant activity has already been produced for the initiative, which supports the work of more than 30 graduate students and additional undergraduates engaged as research assistants.

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