Jake Slobe | April 19, 2017
The Iowa Legislature on Tuesday gave final approval to a budget bill that would zero out funding and dismantle Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Senate File 510 is now headed to Gov. Terry Branstad’s office.
The Legislature’s agriculture budget for 2018 directs $38.8 million to state programs through the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the Department of Natural Resources and the Board of Regents. That’s a reduction of about $4.3 million from the 2016 budget year.
Republican lawmakers said getting rid of the Leopold Center was part of difficult decisions necessitated by a tight budget and lagging revenue. They said other priorities took precedence.
Rep. Scott Ourth, D-Ackworth, also criticized a reduction in funding to the state’s Resource Enhancement And Protection program, which supports projects that enhance and protect the state’s natural and cultural resources. State money to that program will be reduced from $16 million this year to $12 million next year.
The budget bill represents a piece of the state’s broader $7.24 billion general fund budget. Lawmakers have begun finalizing multiple pieces of that budget, clearing the way for them to adjourn the session.
Republican leaders of the subcommittee said they had to cut the budget, and that K-12 education was the priority.
The move to defund Leopold Center was one that caught many in the agricultural community off guard when proposed last week.
“This is a real blow to farmers,” said Aaron Heley Lehman, president of the Iowa Farmers Union and a member of the board of directors at the Leopold Center.
“A lot of people felt that the mission for sustainable agriculture that they (the Leopold Center) undertook, that they have completed that mission,” said Rep. Cecil Dolecheck, according to the Associated Press.
That couldn’t be further from the truth, said Ralph Rosenberg, executive director of the Iowa Environmental Council and a former legislator who helped write the law establishing the Leopold Center 30 years ago.
“I’m not sure people realize how valuable the Leopold Center is,” Rosenberg said.
Other advoactes of the center pointed out that the Leopold Center leverages significant federal research dollars and that it looks at items such as water quality.
The Des Moines Register had an opinion piece written by Jerry DeWitt, Iowa View contributor, about how most of the brunt from defunding the Leopold Center will fall on farmers.
“The continued support of the Leopold Center will better arm thousands of farmers as they struggle to protect water quality. Let’s make sure we fully understand the long-term ramifications of sending our farmers to the table with an empty hand. ”