RUPERT, IDAHO – The University of Idaho announced that excavation crews began clearing the way in May for the construction of the Idaho Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (Idaho CAFE).

Once the site is ready, the university shared, cement pouring for a milking parlor will commence, ahead of the first dairy cows arriving in late 2024 and milking in early 2025.

When Idaho CAFE opens it is expected to be the largest research dairy in the United States. Researchers there will use the facility to develop strategies to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from animals and advance the US dairy industry’s nationwide net zero initiative. Plans also include finding markets for dairy waste from the facility, so that it can be converted into byproducts and fertilizers.

While initial construction work for the project originally was scheduled to begin in summer of 2022, the university stated that U of I and its partners delayed the process to allow time for “exorbitant construction costs to fall.” The university said the prices associated with the project’s first phase dropped “by roughly $4 million” during the pause, following a ceremonial groundbreaking in June 2022.

Organizers said the first phase of the project includes a 2,000-cow dairy, alongside a 640-acre research farm.

“The outlook is very bright,” said Mark McGuire, director of the Idaho Agricultural Experiment Station. “The lower bids mean we have sufficient funds to fully build this project.”

A second phase for the project will include manure handling facilities and lagoons, a maternity barn, a feed area, an office building and structures to provide shade and wind protection for cows, with several pens for research purposes.

The university also said an improved budgetary outlook might make a third phase possible. That would incorporate a cross-ventilated barn for housing 800 to 1,200 cows.

This year, Cargill and Redox Bio-Nutrients both announced $500,000 donations for the project. The university said total industry contributions now stand at close to $9 million. The project also previously received $23.25 million from the sale of U of I’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences endowment land. Plus, the state legislature approved $10 million for the project in 2018, while the Idaho Dairymen’s Association contributed $2 million for the purchase of farmland for the facility.

“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.

Per the university, the project thus far has generated more than $13 million in grant activity, which will support the work of graduate students and undergraduates hired to be research assistants.