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Leopold Center Supporters Ask Legislators for Funding

Amy Mayer
IPR file photo
Southwest Iowa farmer Seth Watkins joined a study to see whether strips of prairie plants could help keep nutrients from running off farm fields. Some of the researchers' funding came from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

Supporters of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, based at Iowa State University, are making their case at the statehouse for reinstating the center’s funding.

Many people in Iowa agriculture, and across the region, expressed shock when the legislature took away the funding for the Leopold Center last spring. The center’s existence remains, thanks to a veto from then-Gov. Terry Branstad, but the state funding that made up the bulk of its budget was zeroed out.

Dan Rosmann has seen the center’s investments reverberate throughout the southwest Iowa area where he farms and where he and his wife run a food hub for other area producers who want to sell in the Omaha and Des Moines markets.

“The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture is one of the few organizations that provides a beacon of hope,” Rosmann says. “They have created an understanding of what rural communities need to survive and thrive. Their promotion of diversity within agriculture has shown the best promise for revitalizing rural Iowa.”

Rosmann says his operation has created five jobs and brought considerable money into a community with a dwindling population.

In the aftermath of the legislature’s decision, the Leopold Center convened a “visioning task force” to collect feedback from around the state on the center’s work. Ann Robinson of the Iowa Environmental Council served on the committee and says the message was surprisingly consistent.

“We really can’t afford to have all of our research funded by companies that, while they may be doing good research, much of that research is really not about the public benefit,” she says, “it’s about selling products. And so we need a balance.”

Robinson says public funding for the Leopold Center’s work is a way to ensure independent research, even if that means asking tough questions and challenging the status quo.

Two Democrats in the House, Beth Wessel-Kroeschell of Ames and Charles Isenhart of Dubuque, have introduced a bill to restore $1 million in state funding, provided the center matches that with money from other sources.

Amy Mayer is a reporter based in Ames