A Sad Day as the Curtain Closes for the Leopold Center


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I was saddened to hear that Iowa Governor Terry Brandstad used a line item veto to maintain authorization of the Leopold Center, but that the funding cuts remained in tact. Iowa Farmer Today reports:

A line-item veto by Gov. Terry Branstad on May 12 means the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University remains alive, but it has no money.

Officials at Iowa State University and at the Leopold Center were left scrambling to figure out what happens next and how the center will change in the coming months and years.

“It’s better than what it was before (the veto),” says Doug Gronau, a farmer who represents the Iowa Farm Bureau on the Leopold Center’s advisory board. “I think there definitely is going to be a reorganization. I guess we’ll see what that means.”

As someone who spends a lot of time digging around the research on how to make agriculture in the US more sustainable, it the hole this blows in our collective capacity is clear. But the impacts will be bigger for Iowa and Midwest farmers in a much more nuts and bolts way.

Iowa farmer Mark Peterson pictured with Center for Rural Affairs staff members Stephanie Enloe and Anna Johnso.

Reprinted with permission is the testimony of Mark Peterson, a farmer near Stanton, Iowa, who testified in favor of funding the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at a public hearing on Iowa’s 2018 budget:

Good Morning,

My wife Melanie and I farm in southwest Iowa close to Stanton. Currently, I serve as a supervisor in Montgomery County and also I am the board president for Practical Farmers of Iowa. Practical Farmers was founded in 1985 in the middle of the farm crisis. We are proud to say that we are a “big tent” organization in that our members come from all political persuasions. The glue that binds our organization together is the sharing of on farm research by our members. By working together for a common goal we are able to improve our farms. We have in the past stayed out of politics. Today for what I believe is the first time that changes. As a conservative republican I am disappointed with what I hear happening. We ask you to continue funding the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

My understanding is that the funding for the Leopold Center would be diverted to strictly nutrient research. While nutrient reduction is important, it is not the total answer to improve water quality. On our farm, we are in our third year of testing for nitrates. With what we have learned from Practical Farmers and the Leopold Center only once has one of our sites been over the 10 ppm nitrate standard. While proper fertilizer placement, timing and amount are part of equation so are expanded crop rotation strategies and the use of cover crops.

Here are thoughts from some of our members:

“The Leopold Center has helped fund on-farm research at Practical Farmers of Iowa for three decades, Through that research, I have learned and adopted practices that I didn’t know I could use on my farm. The Leopold Center’s support is extremely important to farm organizations like PFI and to farmers like me who want to know how to make Iowa agriculture more sustainable.” -Vic Madsen, Audubon County farmer

“As a farmland owner I have seen first-hand how the Leopold Center has been the moral compass for the agriculture web of reciprocity, that of giving back more than it takes from its soil, water and the environment. Through the research accomplished at the Leopold Center farmers have gleaned information for increased profitability for their crop-livestock enterprises. In this cyclical timing of lower grain, oilseed and livestock prices farmers have and continue to look at organizations like the Leopold Center for well researched employable ideas for Iowa’s food, feed and livestock systems.” -Gail Hickenbottom, of Polk County. Gail also serves on the Leopold Center advisory board.


Here is yesterday’s statement from the Leopold Center:

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad signed into legislation on May 12, 2017, Senate File 510, a bill that included language to “eliminate the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.” However, he vetoed this segment of the bill, sparing it from elimination. Although the Leopold Center remains, Gov. Branstad approved moving its funding to the Iowa Nutrient Research Center at Iowa State University.

The Leopold Center, named in honor of renowned Iowa-born naturalist Aldo Leopold, was created as part of the 1987 Iowa Groundwater Protection Act, also signed by Governor Branstad.

“For 30 years, the Leopold Center has offered hope, new knowledge and significant research findings to Iowa and the nation,” said Director Mark Rasmussen. “While we appreciate that the name and the Center will remain, the loss of all state funding severely restricts operations and our ability to serve our many stakeholders.”

More than 30 new grant projects were approved to begin in February and their management will transfer to the ISU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, which has been charged with winding up the Center’s affairs by the end of the 2017. Over the past three decades, the Leopold Center sponsored more than 600 grants involving research, education and demonstration on a wide range of agricultural topics as outlined in its educational mission in the Iowa Code.

Researchers investigated many of the practices years before being enshrined in Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy, including: buffer strips, bioreactors, prairie strips, cover crops, payments for ecosystems services, integrated pest management, early spring nitrate tests, crop rotations, and rotational grazing. Local foods systems were just getting started in Iowa as the Leopold Center promoted farmers markets, grape production for wineries, food hubs, and immigrant garden projects. Thousands of investigators, graduate students, farmers, community members, agency staff and interested Iowans have participated in Leopold Center research and outreach.

To all those who collaborated with the Center, to faithful advisory board members and grantees, to the ISU personnel who worked on so many projects and shared the results of their Leopold Center funding, we offer sincere thanks and appreciation. Your efforts on behalf of sustainable agriculture were and are valuable. We are deeply grateful for the outpouring of supporters who contacted their legislators, signed petitions, and testified in favor of keeping the Leopold Center doors open at the public hearing on April 17. We appreciate the many emotional letters and opinion pieces you have written to news outlets and social media on behalf of the Center and on the future of sustainable agriculture in Iowa.

Special thanks go to advisory board members Aaron Lehman, Doug Gronau, and Gail Hickenbottom for going the extra miles in support for the Center. Former Center director Jerry DeWitt was tireless in his efforts to rally support for the Center in the last month. Angie Carter, along with other former sustainable agriculture graduate students, led grassroots efforts of support. We salute the wisdom and courage of Paul Johnson, Ralph Rosenberg, and David Osterberg, the three legislators who shepherded the Leopold Center into existence in 1987.

The Leopold Center has been true to its mission and transparent in its operations. It also has given Iowa a wealth of gifts to continue the work of sustainable agriculture into the future.

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