Media and agriculture



Wide-eyed fans of right-wing fantasy websites are not the only victims of “fake news.” It galls us when environmental activists claim, as is the fashion lately, that the “media” are hiding the inconvenient facts about agriculture’s impact on the environment. Specifically, there has been much alarm about the growth of hog confinements, dairies and cattle feeding operations in Iowa. The claim has been raised several times that the media are ignoring it and the impacts on water and air quality.

Nothing is actually new. We recall our debates on this page with State Rep. Russ Eddie, R-Storm Lake, about agricultural nuisance protection 20 years ago. The Des Moines Register reported on brown lung disease striking workers in hoghouses before that. Thirty-five years ago the Algona newspapers were reporting on signs of nitrate pollution of alluvial aquifers in the Des Moines River valley. The Cedar Rapids Gazette long has reported on the changing Iowa landscape and how it contributes not only to surface water pollution but also flooding. This newspaper reported and opined extensively on the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit, on which we continue to report. We were the ones who reported that IDNR eliminated the livestock feeding coordinator position and that the dedicated funds were inappropriately spent on other parts of the budget.

These newspapers all have reported extensively on what the Practical Farmers of Iowa and other ag groups are doing to merge profitability with sustainability. We have reported on the research about nutrient loads in the waterways and how to reduce it in practical ways. We have featured farmers making positive contributions to the stewardship effort. We have helped to force changes in how manure is stored and applied.

There are forces on left and right that want to tear down the institutions that they think do not respond to their concerns. Usually the first inclination dating to Roman times is to shoot the messenger.

Right-wing activists conspire against the media because they think it is inherently liberal. The environmental activists believe that the media are inherently institutional and unwilling to challenge Monsanto or Tyson or whoever the enemy is today. Our journalism professor 40 years ago would have told us that we must be doing something right. A lot has changed in 40 years. Cynicism has reached new heights, where everything is a conspiracy designed to keep you out of the loop. We can hope that reason is about to make a comeback and that a middle somewhere holds. It starts with facts.

Stealing from Siebens

It’s horrible in so many ways, but the tax bill before Congress should alarm friends and supporters of Buena Vista University and all private colleges that depend on endowments to survive. The bill championed by Senate Republicans would put a 1.4% tax on endowment earnings, and it also would limit charitable giving tax deductions. That’s a double-whammy to BVU, which offsets tighter tuition revenue with endowment proceeds. A 2% direct cut could mean the difference for some other, small struggling Iowa colleges. It would put a big hurt on BVU, not crippling but certainly not helpful in a challenging higher education marketplace.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Red Oak, tried to sell the bill as not-so-bad over the weekend. We appreciate the old college try, but we hope the senator will stick up for private colleges and universities that depend on endowment revenue. On its face, college endowments look huge. What you don’t see are the middle-income students who would not be at Buena Vista were it not for the help.

We know that a tax on Harold Walter Siebens’ hard work could bring him out of the grave if anything could. The man who left $18 million to endow Buena Vista would be horrified that a new tax could be sold as a tax cut. But Harold Walter Siebens was a conservative businessman. The folks running the tax bill are politicians desperate to score a victory by siphoning off the Siebens legacy.

Sen. Ernst is not too far gone to remember what a real conservative was like. She should change her tune and rise to the defense of Iowa’s unique network of independent colleges and universities before she, too, loses her values.