3-7 IAT Parma opening

3-7 IAT Parma opening

David Sparks Ph.D.
David Sparks Ph.D.
More than 200 people showed up Feb. 20 to celebrate a $12 million revitalization of the University of Idaho’s Parma Research and Extension Center.

The grand opening ceremony for a modern research facility at the center represented a sharp reversal in fortunes for the 200-acre research center that conducts research on many of the crops grown in the region, and Idaho, including vegetables, forages, cereals, hops, mint and fruit and seed crops.

In 2009, after U of I’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences lost nearly $5 million in state funding for research efforts during the recession, the Parma center was slated for closure.

At one point, it was already closed on paper.

But the agriculture industry rallied around the Parma center and created a group called Treasure Valley Ag Coalition to save it. The TVAC group lobbied lawmakers and the governor on behalf of the research center.

Fifteen years later, not only is the research center still open, but it’s thriving, with a modern, $12 million facility that contains laboratory space for research in nematology, pomology, plant pathology, microbiology and hops.

The new 9,600-square-foot building replaces antiquated facilities that were more than 50 years old in some cases.

The Feb. 20 ceremony was a grand opening for the new facility.

“We are here. We are not shuttered,” Margie Watson of J.C. Watson Co., an onion packing and shipping company based in Parma, said during the grand opening ceremony. “I stand before you to not only celebrate this building, but to celebrate the vibrant future it represents to the University of Idaho, the Parma area and Idaho agriculture.”

Watson and her husband, Jon, were members of the TVAC group that is credited with saving the Parma center.

“Fifteen years ago, February 2009, was a completely different story,” Margie Watson said. “Parma was being shuttered. We couldn’t have that. Industry couldn’t have that. The state of Idaho couldn’t have that. So industry went to work.”

She said the group of ag industry members that would form TVAC initially met in a room at the center that had no heat or water.

“We worked hard; we opened our checkbooks,” Watson said. “We formed the Treasure Valley Ag Coalition to save this station. We got ‘er done.”

The history of the Parma Research and Extension Center dates to 1922. The station has entomology, soils, horticulture, crop management, pomology, viticulture, nematology, and plant pathology programs.

“The actions of the Treasure Valley Ag Coalition are really the inspiration we built on to get us to the point that we’re not only celebrating the continued legacy of the Parma R&E Center, but a revitalization of the center and the grand opening of a new cutting-edge research laboratory that will pay dividends for generations,” said Michael Parrella, dean of U of I’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, which oversees the state’s nine agricultural research centers.

Parrella pointed out it was a three-way partnership between the state, the university and ag industry that resulted in the revival of the Parma center. The ag industry came up with $3 million toward the new facility.

“I credit the investment from the state of Idaho and the many individuals, family farms, corporations and commodity organizations who gave to this effort,” Parrella said.

Gov. Brad Little, a rancher who used to have a farm near the Parma center, said Canyon County, where Parma is located, is the most diversified agricultural county in Idaho and one of the most diverse in the United States.

“Crops that are grown real close to here literally are the formation of agriculture and a lot of the wealth in Idaho,” Little said during the grand opening celebration. “The base that has kept Idaho going through the hard times is right here in this community.”

Little said he has constantly reminded fellow ranchers over the years that in agriculture, change is inevitable but adaptation and survival are optional.

“This facility right here is adaptation and survival,” he said. “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 all the challenges we in agriculture know exist every day.”

The new facility is called the Idaho Center for Plant and Soil Health. Margie Watson said the research done there benefits all of Idaho agriculture, not just the Treasure Valley area.
“What a fitting name for this facility,” she said. “It’s real simple: healthy plants, healthy soil is critical to all of Idaho agriculture, not just the Treasure Valley. This facility is for Idaho.”

“This facility has the capacity to house the most diverse list of crops for research in the Northwest,” Watson added. “This center has been the cornerstone of agriculture and research and education for a century. But like any living organism, growth depends on renewal. Let’s celebrate this renewal.”

Previous ReportIDFBF and ID legislature
Next ReportSpud exports