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University of Idaho building new center to research soil & crops

The Idaho Center for Plant & Soil Health is coming to the Parma Research and Extension Center.

PARMA, Idaho — The University of Idaho (U of I) is extending its Parma Research and Extension Center, by building a new space for studying soil and plants.

The Idaho Center for Plant & Soil Health is currently under construction and is intended to replace the outdated buildings currently being used.

Michael Kiester, the operations manager at the Extension Center, said the new building will be around the same size in square footage as the current building, but will help scientists be much more efficient; right now, some of the researchers have to travel between buildings and walk across the street multiple times throughout the day.

"These buildings were basically put into service about 40 years ago, with a 10-year lifespan," Kiester said. "Currently, we're wanting to update our facilities to fit more with the needs of the current agricultural practices around the state." 

Scientists at the Parma Research and Extension Center study plants and crops to identify what it is they need to thrive, or what is inhibiting the plant from growing. Farmers around Idaho send their crops to the research facility when they have issues, in hopes of finding an answer.

Kiester said a variety of researchers will also work with other states, or countries, like Canada.

"We get a lot of different samples throughout the whole Intermountain West, so this is nationwide, as well as just local," Kiester said.

After some unforeseen extra expenses, the project is in need of some more funding; however, U of I's Director for Communications and Strategic Initiatives, Carly Schoepflin, said the school has a plan to get the project fully funded. 

Governor Brad Little made a request for an additional $2.35 million for this facility. So if the legislature approves the request, the project will be fully funded.

Keister believes it will be a welcome sight to the employees that work there, once the project is completed. 

"The morale I think should boost a little with the new space. It'll be a lot nicer to walk into a nice new building with the lab space for sure," Kiester said.

The building is expected to be completed later this year by October 2023, barring any delays. Kiester said they have dealt with some supply chain issues during construction, like a backup generator for the building that won't be available for another 18 months.

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