The sun set on a field of corn in Mountain Lake, MN on Monday, July 8, 2013. Erosion this year has cost farmers $1 billion. (The Daily Iowan/Margaret Kispert)
The sun set on a field of corn in Mountain Lake, MN on Monday, July 8, 2013. Erosion this year has cost farmers $1 billion. (The Daily Iowan/Margaret Kispert)

Strong support for Leopold erupts

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By Molly Hunter | molly-hunter@uiowa.edu

Members of Iowa’s agriculture community showed their support for agricultural service centers at a public hearing on proposed cuts to the state’s agricultural budget held at the Capitol on Monday.

Many spoke out in support of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, which would lose funding under the proposed cuts.

“Essentially, it would shut us down,” said center Director Mark Rasmussen. “There is legislative language to do that, not just divert and eliminate funding but also close the center.”

The Leopold Center is primarily a grant-funding agency, but it also conducts and supports sustainable farming research and outreach efforts.

If it is shut down, Rasmussen said, it is unclear whether the center’s 30 years of research information would continue to be available.

“We get people get downloading stuff on a weekly basis,” he said. “It’s not certain where [people] would go if the Leopold Center wasn’t here.”

Liz Garst, a board member and volunteer for Whiterock Conservancy, supported the center at the public hearing. She participated in the center’s research on the feed quality of prairie hay.

“This came out enormously important to us and all our neighbors in 2012, the drought year, when prairie hay made hay, and we knew what we had thanks to research projects from the Leopold Center,” she said.

The Whiterock Conservancy is organized to support the Leopold Center, which has a seat on the Conservancy’s Board of Directors. The Leopold Center helped form the conservancy, a nonprofit land trust devoted to sustainable agriculture in Iowa that manages 5,000 acres of land.

“The Leopold Center is a major partner of ours, and the loss would be devastating,” Garst said.

Aaron Lehman, the president of the Iowa Farmer’s Union and a fifth-generation family farmer of corn, soybeans, oats, and hay in northern Polk County, also urged the Legislature to continue funding the Leopold Center.

“[The center’s] research is reviewed and overseen by a broad range of farmers, and it highly prioritizes work that can make a real difference in the field,” he said. “This farmer-friendly approach has led to the development of countless practices now in place.”

Lehman said the Leopold research dollars have been multiplied many times over.

“These worthwhile projects have been leveraged to find additional research dollars down the road,” he said. “It has been a sound investment.

“Now is not the time to pull the plug on farmer-friendly innovations. I understand that the state budge forecasts have put this proposal in play, but I can assure you that the situation for our farmers and for the Iowa landscape is much worse.”

Lehman noted that farm-industry experts have said farm income is expected to drop again in 2017 for the fourth-consecutive year. Lehman said this comes out to a 50 percent drop in farm income from Iowa’s most recent highs.

“If we don’t address those concerns now, down the road, this will lead to more regulations and lawsuits,” he said.