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Leopold Center for sustainable agriculture loses funding

CONTRIBUTED Director of the Leopold Center Mark Rasmussen enjoying Iowa agriculture.

By Michael Cummings

Director of the Leopold Center Mark Rasmussen enjoying Iowa agriculture.

Proponents of sustainable agriculture in Iowa were dealt a heavy blow at the end of Iowa’s recently closed legislative session. Iowa State University’s Leopold Center, which has spent the past three decades advocating for sustainable agriculture, fell victim to budget cuts in the Iowa Legislature this year.

Mark Rasmussen, Director of the Leopold Center, expressed confusion over the rationale for the cut.

“There are many theories as to why the Leopold Center (with its relatively small amount of appropriations) was targeted specifically, but they are all speculation,” Rasmussen wrote in an email to The S&B. “Some legislators stated that the Center’s work was completed and farmers know what they need to do to keep soil in place and reduce nitrogen and phosphorus entering Iowa’s water bodies. … That runs counter to trends in Iowa’s water quality and data provided in the state’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy.”

Allies of the Leopold Center are coming out in force, including many here on campus.

“The repercussions will reach far beyond Iowa,” said Professor Jon Andelson, Director of the Center for Prairie Studies. “The Leopold Center is nationally recognized for sustainable agriculture. Their programs, their publications, all have been very important in advancing the cause of sustainable agriculture. With those programs and publications coming to an end, it will set back sustainable agriculture, I think seriously, particularly in Iowa, of course, but also nationally.”

This hits close to home for Andelson, as the Center for Prairie Studies has benefited greatly from help provided by the Leopold Center.

“Just a couple of years after … the Center for Prairie Studies was established, which was in 1999, we received a grant from the Leopold Center to promote our exploration of creating a local food system in Grinnell,” Andelson said.

Professor Shannon Hinsa-Leasure, biology, is currently using a Leopold Center grant to do research.

“Without the support from organizations like this one, it would be challenging for labs like mine to afford to do the research necessary to successfully compete for larger NSF grants,” wrote Hinsa-Leasure in an email to The S&B. “The funding I have from the Leopold Center has paid for student assistants in my lab, materials necessary for research and sequencing , and supported my summer salary. … The loss of this center will reduce the opportunities I have for students to conduct research in my laboratory.”

While it seems likely that the Leopold Center will be eliminated, it’s not yet a done deal. The legislature passed the bill cutting the program, but Governor Branstad has not yet signed it. Rasmussen expressed some optimism that the governor may choose to save the Center.

“Governor Branstad signed the 1987 Groundwater Protection Act that created the Leopold Center 30 years ago this year. We do not know what he plans to do regarding the Center’s future. However, many Iowans have contacted his office and hold out hope that he will use his line-item veto power to keep the Leopold Center and its funding intact,” wrote Rasmussen.

Rasmussen is adamant that a line-item veto by Governor Branstad is in Iowan’s best interests.

“The agricultural industry in Iowa, especially the next generation of farmers, will lose a great deal [if the Center is closed]. The Center has always been ahead of its time supporting research for improvement in agricultural methods that save soil and protect water bodies,” Rasmussen wrote.

“Ultimately, I believe that the closure would be an embarrassment to the citizens of Iowa,” Rasmussen wrote. “It sets a bad precedent for legislators, farmers and landowners to walk away from exploration and education about sustainability while the rest of the nation is embracing it. The Leopold Center’s demise will be a loss to Iowa citizens, a loss for our soil and water, and a loss to our shared future.”

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