News Column

Wheat panel funds position at UI

June 26, 2014

By Kathy Hedberg, Lewiston Tribune, Idaho

June 26--MOSCOW -- In what officials said has become an ever-deepening commitment by Idaho wheat farmers to support agricultural research and education at the University of Idaho, the Idaho Wheat Commission signed a three-year agreement Wednesday to fund a new wheat molecular geneticist position.

Ned Moon, chairman of the wheat commission, said the agreement will also pay the salary for a graduate student assistant and is part of a continuing effort by wheat farmers to address issues critical to the industry. In the past four years, the wheat commission has directed more than $4.1 million to support wheat research and scholarships at UI.

The new position will cost $640,000 over the course of three years and is provided by a 3.5-cent assessment per bushel when growers sell their wheat. Funding will be taken up by the university at the end of that term, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Dean John Foltz said.

"The bottom line is that we're very appreciative of this partnership we have with the Idaho Wheat Commission," Foltz said before a crowd of about 25 onlookers.

The partnership includes Limgrain Cereal Seeds, a private company that also is contributing to research goals at the university. Foltz said other agriculture colleges across the country "are looking to us for leadership on how it's working."

The new position will expand college wheat variety development efforts into the realm of bioinformatics and computational biology. Foltz said wheat research is expected to expand "in quantum leaps."

Wheat Commissioner Joe Anderson of Potlatch, who is retiring after this term on the commission, said it's critical wheat research stays on the cutting edge.

"We're looking at the challenges facing the wheat industry," Anderson said. "The time requirements to be able to do these things is not what it was 10 years ago. We've got to move much, much faster in order to be competitive. And these biotechnology tools ... will allow our programs to develop traits and allow them to get into varieties farmers can plant in a much more timely basis."

Anderson said it's unusual for a commodity commission to pay salaries for tenured faculty at a college.

But the wheat commission, he said, "cannot wait for the time when there are enough appropriated dollars coming in to be able to fill this position. We don't have that kind of time, so our goal is, we'll step outside the box and we'll provide this funding and give the college time enough to go into the appropriation process."

Rep. Cindy Agidius, R-Moscow, said even though there are politics involved in state appropriations, she believes the Legislature is fully supportive of agricultural research at UI.

"I'm really thankful that we have this public/private partnership and it's certainly important to the University of Idaho and to the people of Idaho. It's a great research opportunity and I'm excited about it," Agidius said.

"Even though I sometimes see some political favor toward other universities, I continue to see consistent support for the university ag program because they recognize what a fabulous job they're doing up here," she said. "And as our budget increases, I believe we can see more and more funding coming for these type of projects."

Hedberg may be contacted at (208) 983-2326.


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Source: Lewiston Morning Tribune (ID)

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