Construction crews are wrapping up a monumental excavation project to lay the groundwork for what will be the nation’s largest research dairy, led by the University of Idaho and based in Idaho’s Magic Valley.

Oconnell john
Assistant Director of Communications / College of Agricultural and Life Sciences / University of Idaho

Workers began moving earth at the future site of the Idaho Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (Idaho CAFE) in Rupert in May 2023. They’re now 95% of the way through moving 145,000 cubic yards of topsoil from 80 acres at the dairy site for use as fill, raising ground at the milking barn site by 8 feet and the cattle yard site by 6 feet.

Christopher Rae, assistant project manager with the general contractor, McAlvain Construction based in Boise, explained that crews encountered massive boulders and lava rock and had to use a chipping hammer and blaster to clear it. Nonetheless, they remained on schedule.

Three dairy lagoons were also dug at the site in October 2023. Concrete work is well underway. Two walls of Idaho CAFE’s holding pen have been poured. Interior and exterior footings of offices, the maintenance area and the milk storage area have also been poured. Furthermore, the base and circular framing for the rotary milking parlor are in place.

Workers were scheduled to start pouring a pair of walls for the milking parlor in December, and in January, steel supports will be inserted into the new footings, and rock will be blasted to make way for the commodity barn.


The project is on track for completion in late 2024. Milking should commence in early 2025, starting with 1,000 cows and scaling up to 2,000 cows.

Idaho is the No. 3 milk-producing state, with dairy sales comprising 38% of the state’s agricultural cash receipts. Idaho CAFE promises to provide the data to help the state’s dairy farmers navigate an uncertain future while making their operations increasingly sustainable and efficient, offering a unique focus on producing milk in the arid West.

For years to come, Idaho CAFE will generate both science-based answers, applicable to Idaho’s unique circumstances, and a steady pipeline of skilled labor to help Idaho’s dairy industry thrive, thereby propelling the state’s overall economy forward. A water and soil health demonstration farm adjacent to the dairy will accommodate feed production, nutrient management and complementary agronomic research – exploring relationships between crop and animal agriculture.


Walls have been poured for the new holding pen at Idaho CAFE’s construction site (winter 2023). Photo by Savanah Nunes.

Project description

Idaho CAFE will house a state-of-the-art milking parlor in Rupert, Idaho, with cutting-edge milking technology, accommodating a 2,000-head dairy herd. Together, the dairy and the adjacent farm will be a living laboratory, designed to easily plug and play new technologies at industry scale, with an emphasis on conditions in the arid West.

Estimated completion date: end of 2024, milking cows in early 2025