Pence donates Sandpoint Orchard to UI

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SANDPOINT — The University of Idaho College of Agricultural and Life Sciences has established a new presence in Sandpoint and Bonner County with the acquisition of the Sandpoint Orchard.

The UI announced in a press release Wednesday that it had acquired the 48-acre property through a donation from Dennis Pence of Sandpoint and his family. Pence established the orchard to demonstrate agricultural opportunities in North Idaho. It will be known as the Sandpoint Organic Agriculture Center and be the first in the U of I system to focus on organic farming and organic-certified production systems.

“We are excited about conducting agricultural research and providing new learning opportunities at the Sandpoint Organic Agriculture Center,” said Michael Parrella, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences dean. “The center will expand our ability to conduct community-focused programs and offer new ways to enhance undergraduate and graduate education.”

A celebration will take place Oct. 23 to highlight planned outreach and education opportunities at the new U of I center. As the first center in the U of I system to focus on organic farming and organic-certified production systems, the Sandpoint Organic Agriculture Center will position the college to become a leader in community-based programs focused on the growing industry.

“I am extremely pleased with the interest and enthusiasm for expanding the university’s educational activities in regards to organic and sustainable agriculture shown by Dean Parrella and the faculty and staff of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences,” Pence said. “The creation of the Sandpoint Organic Agriculture Center places the university among an elite group of U.S. institutions of higher learning, and the center will be an immensely useful asset for education, research and public outreach in the years to come.”

The orchard is one of the few in the state to receive USDA Organic certification from the Idaho State Department of Agriculture. State statistics show more than 300 certified organic farming operations in Idaho with 28 percent growth since 2014. Idaho ranks seventh among all states in certified organic acreage with 167,000 acres in 2015 valued at $85 million.

The Sandpoint Organic Agriculture Center will offer educational programs in organic and sustainable agriculture production. Public programs are expected to focus on biological control, pollinators, soil health, native plant landscaping, horticulture, organic food processing and marketing, food safety and nutrition.

Plans call for the center to offer hands-on internships for U of I and North Idaho College students to help boost enrollment in agricultural programs and strengthen the university’s presence in North Idaho. Other U of I colleges will have access to the center for programs consistent with the center’s mission. The center is located on Boyer Avenue along the northwest edge of Sandpoint.

The 48 acres acquired from Pence Aug. 1 includes an office building and meeting center, residences for visiting researchers, dormitory, shop and cider house. Pence previously donated 18 acres of adjacent land to the college in 2007.

The Sandpoint Orchard grows 68 varieties of apples, most of them heirloom varieties that originated a century ago or more. The orchard also grows cherries, plums, pears and berries. Products from the orchard are marketed locally.

“The center will focus on organic agriculture,” Parrella said, “but both conventional and organic agriculture share many common themes such as soil health and sustainability. Strategies that work for organic production often translate to conventional farming methods.”

College scientists say the center offers opportunities to study ways to increase beneficial insects and pollinators, crop rotation systems, pest management and uses of native plants with an emphasis on organic methods. Soil-related projects could emphasize what constitutes healthy soil with a focus on use of cover crops, nutrient availability and uptake, and water-use efficiency.

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