The future of the famed Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture is in doubt after Iowa’s Republican-controlled legislature voted to cut all funding to the 30-year-old research group.
State Governor Terry Branstad vetoed legislation that would have shut down the center, but in what is described as an act of political vindictiveness, allowed a section diverting all its $1.8-million funding to the Iowa Nutrient Research Center.
This leaves Leopold with no money to operate.
Branstad then resigned and headed off to China to serve as the U.S. ambassador.
The center’s mission was to identify and reduce negative environmental and socio-economic impacts of agricultural practices.
It had been on the leading edge of sustainable agriculture for 30 years, awarding grants for work on practices that have become commonplace in today’s sustainable farming operations.
The Iowa State University newspaper editorial board said it was foolish to think that shutting down a research center that contributes to the progress of Iowa’s backbone of industry is a good idea.
“With this budget cut, lawmakers are saying that farmers don’t deserve the latest information and technology that is needed for them to produce a sustainable harvest,” the board says.
Since its beginning, the center had operated independently with oversight of an advisory board consisting of appointees from the regent universities, independent colleges and universities, the State Soil Conservation Committee, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and agricultural organizations.
The Iowa state government is Republican and the vote for eliminating the Leopold Centre was divided straight down party lines.
The center has eight staff members. Director Mark Rasmussen and Distinguished Fellow Fred Kirschenmann remain, working part-time. The rest will lose their center jobs.
The long-running competitive grants program sponsored by the center will cease.
“As the impact of these changes continues to resonate across the state and the country, it is our hope that Iowa’s natural resources – its soil and bodies of water – remain a priority of Iowa farmers and landowners,” the center says in a statement.
Former USDA under secretary for rural development Thomas Dorr says for Branstad to affirm the legislature’s decision to close the center on his way to China, would cause those in China’s agricultural leadership to raise questions as to why the center was deemed unnecessary.
“Iowa’s long-term relationship with China would benefit greatly by being able to refer them to Leopold Centre projects,” says, Dorr also a former president of the U.S. Grains Council.