Equipment at the edge of a recently-plowed field on Canfield Family Farm near Waterloo. (The Daily Iowan/Molly Hunter)
Equipment at the edge of a recently-plowed field on Canfield Family Farm near Waterloo. (The Daily Iowan/Molly Hunter)

Leopold cuts worry Ag people

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By Molly Hunter | molly-hunter@uiowa.edu

State budget cuts to agriculture research may jeopardize Iowa’s sustainable future.

The Iowa Legislature recently approved a budget proposal that jeopardizes the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. The Leopold Center is a grant-funding agency that supports sustainable farming research and outreach efforts.

The center’s work has been particularly significant because of its practicality.

“The Leopold Center has funded research for projects and solutions that actually work on actual farms, and that is a fine distinction to make,” said Brandi Janssen, the director of the Iowa Center for Agriculture Safety/Health at the University of Iowa. “The work that they have done has been directly embedded in policy shifts and changes in farm practices.”

In fact, the Leopold Center was instrumental in the development of Iowa’s water-quality policies.

“We’re asking farmers to do more and more to help with our water-quality situation here in Iowa,” said Aaron Lehman, a farmer and the president of the Iowa Farmer’s Union. All the water quality measures that are trying to be put in place now … a lot of it originated at the Leopold Center.”

Farming practices also affect consumer behavior as never before.

Earl Canfield, the owner and primary operator of Canfield Family Farm, said more and more consumers are paying close attention to the farming practices used during production.

“If government involvement in agriculture is helpful, in one area it can be helpful in is helping to educate or re-educate farmers on how to farm in ways that will allow them to be better stewards of the land,” Canfield said. “That will allow them to understand in a better way how what they do on the farm affects the quality of the food products that they’re … producing.”

Leopold Center Director Mark Rasmussen said he’s not certain where else people could go to look for the kind of information it provides.

“The Leopold Center is made to be farmer-friendly; there are farmers on the review boards,” Lehman said.

The Leopold Center also works closely with many of Iowa’s agricultural groups and organizations.

“I know Practical Farmers of Iowa has a lot of direct connections with them, and they work hand-in-hand quite a bit on a lot of their research and the projects that they work on,” Canfield said.

Canfield said he is opposed to the elimination of the Leopold Center because its efforts have made information on responsible farming practices easier to access.

“Organizations like the Leopold Center or [Practical Farmers of Iowa] can be a great help in facilitating that dissemination of information and education,” he said. “It’s nice to have the [Practical Farmers of Iowa] or Leopold Center who have a nonpartisan role there.”

Chad Hart, an ISU associate economics professor, said the Leopold Center focuses on environmental and conservation issues on the farm, and its money has supported wide-ranging research.

“That, to me, is probably the more concerning aspect here,” Hart said. “The Leopold Center … funded the research that helped determine the science behind what we’re seeing going on and how can you address those issues.”