Courtesy of University of Idaho
BOISE — Gov. Butch Otter’s proposed fiscal year 2019 budget does not include the $3 million in state funds for a new nuclear seed potato facility sought by the University of Idaho’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.
CALS officials had requested $3 million in state funding to help build a new $5.5 million nuclear seed potato facility, which maintains disease-free germplasm and mini-tubers for seed potato growers and researchers.
The rest of the money would come from industry partners.
The governor’s budget was released Jan. 8 and UI officials had hoped to see their request recommended in the budget. But Otter did not recommend that legislators meet the request.
“The governor does not recommend general fund (money) for a nuclear seed potato facility,” the budget states. “Future capital requests should be made to the Permanent Building Fund advisory council.”
The state’s PBF funds maintenance and construction costs for state buildings, including at universities. The advisory council, which is appointed by the governor, recommends projects to be funded.
CALS officials said they are exploring their options but it appears they might be limited, at least for this year.
“They can’t ask for it this year (from the PBF),” said Jani Revier, Otter’s budget director. “The deadline passed long ago.”
CALS officials told Capital Press Jan. 5 they hoped to complete the new building in 2020.
Financial commitments from industry partners are already secured, said Brent Olmstead, CALS’ assistant dean for government and external relations.
“We have their pledges and commitments already lined up,” he said. “The support is already there.”
UI’s nuclear seed potato program — the “nuclear” part refers to the origin of potatoes — produces plantlets, or mini-tubers, which are then used by growers to produce plants in the field.
“We maintain identity preservation and we clean up the plants so that they’re clean and they’re healthy,” said CALS Dean Michael Parrella. “From a quality perspective, that’s where it starts. It starts with those plants and those mini-tubers.”
A new facility would provide the ability needed to significantly ramp up the program’s production capacity as well as improve quality control, Parrella said.
The facility produces about 250,000 plantlets a year but “the demand from the growers in Idaho is more than two times that and we really don’t have the capacity right now to do that,” he said.
More than 30 UI faculty work on potatoes, which are Idaho’s top crop in terms of cash receipts.
“We probably do more work on potatoes as an institution than any place in the world,” Parrella said. “This (new) facility reinforces the university’s commitment” to potato research.
He said the new building would facilitate CALS’ plans “to have more of a focus from an educational perspective on seed production and marketing in Idaho.”
CALS also hopes the new facility will spur USDA to locate its national potato germplasm repository to UI’s Moscow campus, where the program is located, said Mark McGuire, director of the college’s Agricultural Experiment Station.
The university maintains about 300 lines of potatoes now at the Moscow facility and having USDA there would add about another 100 cultivars that would be available to public and private breeders, Parrella said.