Simplot proposes plan to fund UI Parma crop center

AP News
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Posted: Dec 08, 2009 7:55 AM

The University of Idaho said Monday that an agricultural research center facing closure because of state budget cuts would survive until 2014 under a proposed agreement with J.R. Simplot Co.

The food processing and agricultural company _ one of the main suppliers of McDonald's french fries _ would give $300,000 each year to the center in Parma as part of the five-year agreement.

In exchange, Simplot researchers will be allowed to use the site's facilities and up to 50 acres of land for crop studies and development. The center in Parma sits on 200 acres, half of which is crop land.

Under the proposed agreement, the university would dedicate half of a research faculty position for the coordination, oversight and some maintenance of the company's research at the site. The university would also provide tillage and irrigation for Simplot's research at another site in the Parma region.

The proposal has been submitted to the state Board of Education for approval, along with the university's plans for the future of the 11 other agriculture and extension centers amid state-mandated budget cuts. The school is facing a $4.7 million loss in state funding for the centers.

The school's Tetonia and Sandpoint facilities will stay in operation at least through June 2010 because of financial pledges from industry groups, the university said in a statement.

School officials declined to further discuss the proposals for the three facilities before a board meeting Thursday. The university also has submitted notices of intent to close the three sites and consolidate the research at other locations if the board does not approve the proposals.

Simplot spokesman David Cuoio said the company was "assuming it's a done deal, but until the board votes on it and it's approved for sure, we really can't comment."

Earlier this year, a committee of farmers and lawmakers recommended that the university close the three agricultural centers to help eliminate a then-$3.2 million deficit caused by state cuts. In September, the university's research and extension centers lost another $1.5 million as public universities and colleges statewide were ordered to cut spending to help make up for state revenue shortfalls.

The plan to shutter Parma by Dec. 31, however, drew the most attention.

The closure was delayed after Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter criticized school officials for not first consulting with their newly appointed president and the state Board of Education. Fruit growers who use the station to do research on their crops also balked at the plan.

Calls to the Parma center were not immediately returned Monday.