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Iowa Ag News Headlines
Farmers Union Urges Veto on Eliminating Leopold Center
Iowa Ag Connection - 04/20/2017

Reacting to news that the Iowa legislature had voted late Tuesday to approve two appropriations measures that would defund and close the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, Iowa Farmers Union (IFU) President Aaron Lehman called on Gov. Terry Branstad to exercise his line-item veto to save the Center.

"The Governor should rise above the political fray and protect this important source of innovative agricultural research that has served Iowa and its farmers so well during his administration."

The Leopold Center was originally authorized and funded in 1987 by the Groundwater Protection Act, landmark legislation that was passed on a bipartisan basis by the Iowa legislature and signed into law by Gov. Branstad in the midst of the 1980s farm crisis.

The education appropriations bill approved by the legislature on Tuesday strips the Leopold Center of approximately $400,000 in annual appropriations from the state's general fund - a relatively modest impact to the overall state budget. The agriculture and natural resources appropriations bill reassigns revenue from a sales tax on nitrogen fertilizer sales, keeping the tax in place and moving the revenue to the Iowa Nutrient Research Fund. The bill also mandates the closure of the Leopold Center effective July 2017.

The Senate voted 28-22 on Monday night to reject an amendment from Sen. Herman Quirmbach of Ames that would have kept the Center open to allow an opportunity to identify additional funding sources. The House voted 46-52 on Tuesday night to reject a similar amendment offered by Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell of Ames to keep the Center open and also retain revenue from the fertilizer sales tax. In addition to state appropriations and tax revenue, Leopold Center research projects have generated approximately $5 million in annual revenue from federal and private grants.

"This decision is a terrible loss for Iowa's family farmers," said Lehman. "With the current state of the farm economy, our farmers need innovation and practical research more than ever. Instead this legislature has handed us a huge dose of political pettiness."

Farmers from around the state took time off from spring field work to travel to the State Capitol on Monday for a hastily scheduled public hearing on the proposed budget bills. Farmers and conservation advocates had scrambled to respond when the complete defunding and elimination of the Leopold Center was suddenly added to the budget proposals by House and Senate Republicans in the final weeks of the legislative session.

"This really caught us off guard," noted Lehman. "There was no attempt to get feedback from farmers, no warning to Leopold Center staff or their grant partners. We have no idea where this came from. It just feels like settling political scores and paying off special interests took precedence over the best interests Iowa farmers and the health of the Iowa landscape."

Farmers are not the only ones objecting to the legislature's abrupt push to close the Leopold Center. Professor Neil Hamiltion, head of the Drake Agricultural Law Center and a member of the Leopold Center advisory board for more than two decades said, "The decision to not just defund but completely eliminate the Leopold Center is misguided and illogical. Iowa farmers need sound research and data to help them reduce soil loss and improve water quality. The Leopold Center has a 30 year track record and is our most valuable and respected source for this type of research. Taking this punitive step to kill the Leopold Center only proves that this legislature has no intention of dealing with Iowa's water quality in a serious way."

With just a few days to go in the 2017 Iowa legislative session, the main legislative proposals to fund water quality are still up in the air and if approved, would provide only a fraction of the amount needed to fund the goals outlined in state's nutrient reduction strategy.

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