BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Four months ago, a committee that included farmers and lawmakers recommended the University of Idaho shutter three agricultural research centers to help eliminate a $3.2 million deficit.
University officials are now touring the state to gather more input after the proposed closure of the Parma Research Extension Center by the end of the year drew criticism from southwest Idaho fruit growers and the governor.
The Sandpoint and Tetonia research and extension centers were also recommended for closure, but those proposals were not as developed as the plan to shutdown the Parma facility, university officials said.
The school's College of Agricultural and Life Sciences is facing an 11.5 percent loss for its 12 agriculture and extension centers during the current fiscal year because of cuts in state spending.
"We can't spend money we don't have," said college spokesman Bill Loftus.
The university said in June it would close the center in Parma, which sits on 200 acres and has three greenhouses, but growers who use the station to do research on their crops blasted the proposal and called on the governor to spend $500,000 to keep the facility open next year while they explored alternative funding.
An apple grower threatened to revoke his agreement to pay for scholarships for southwest Idaho students.
The university backed away from the plan in July, after Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter said the university should have first consulted with their new president and the state Board of Education on the decision.
University president Duane Nellis started July 1 and during a news conference with the governor later that month said he would delay the closure and gather more information from the agricultural community and other parties.
"In general, we've been doing more assessment on the cost benefit, viability, and impact of our statewide research and extension operation," Nellis told The Associated Press in an e-mail Tuesday. "And we're getting the agricultural industry, other partners and the general public more engaged in this dialogue."
The university has scheduled public meetings in Idaho Falls, Twin Falls, Caldwell and Sandpoint beginning Sept. 8.
The 19-member committee assembled earlier this year to review the research and extension centers included two Idaho senators, the state farm service director and the head of the Idaho Grain Producers Association.
The committee released five recommendations for the closure, consolidation and restructuring of research and extension centers.
Research conducted at the Sandpoint center in northern Idaho could be done at private nurseries and the faculty moved to the Bonner County facility, the committee found.
Faculty at the Parma center in southwest Idaho could be moved to the nearby Caldwell site and some programs moved to Twin Falls or Kimberly to save money. And much of the research at the Tetonia Research and Extension Center could be moved to other eastern Idaho locations, such as Aberdeen, committee members wrote in their 6-page summary.
"That was the best recommendation at the time, situations change and if some group were to say 'we want to help fund a particular center,' that might change the equation," Loftus said.