Opportunity to rebuild Leopold

by Ralph Rosenberg

On Tuesday, Feb. 6, a press event was held in the Wallace State Office building in Des Moines. Its purpose was to publicize an effort by Iowans to call for a new Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. For Iowans caring about our land and water, this provides an opportunity to improve upon a sustainable agriculture focused solution that worked for over 30 years. And in NW Iowa, with much debate over regulatory over non-regulatory solutions, the Leopold Center is non–regulatory and independent. And in Iowa, with many farm families wondering about the future of farming, the Leopold Center provided a means to look a real options for our future generations to adopt. A little background follows.

 In 1987, the Iowa legislature enacted the nationally recognized Iowa Groundwater Protection law, which included creation of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. The law and the Center itself as frequently copied by other Ag states.

As legislative chair of the committee that studied the issue for two years, holding multiple public hearings and asking for input from all sectors, we concluded research, demonstration and education should be the function of the Center.

Ironically, it was some of the Ag chemical companies that wanted to set standards or regulations. To insure the independence of the Center and to avoid the Center competing with funding for other programs, we proposed and it was signed into law by then Gov. Branstad. That farmers contribute small amounts of fees to support research demonstration and education. Fees were based on nitrogen or pesticide sales.  The funds were independent of any outside influence. The Center could concentrate its work without worrying about funders cutting off research. I know. I represented Story County and I had researchers tell me they wanted additional funding with no potential conflicts.  We did not signal out our farmers; we also addressed landfills, urban pesticides, leaking underground storage tanks and other issues. But alwaysmaking sure that if you contribute to the problem, you contribute to the solution—urban and rural Iowans alike.

Last year, the Legislature removed state funding from the Leopold Center.  Last week, the Governor signed a bill approving millions of dollars of spending on random acts of conservation—Leopold was an intentional program, not random. It relied on peer reviewed work and research, and publicly released data.  Leopold had an advisory board including representative of producers. Money was not thrown at problems. It was accountable funding, unlike the bill signed last week.

Now, the Legislature will have an opportunity to re-fund a new and improved Leopold Center incorporating many ag changes from the past 30 years—increases in local foods, support for Iowa farmers who want to implement sustainable and profitable growing practices, and greater recognition of the need to ramp up the need for sustainable ag, whether cattle or row crops.

Agricultural challenges require collaboration, creativity, innovation, transparency and science-based approaches.   Leopold in 1987 recognized that and the law received bi-partisan support (yes both R’s and D’s voted for the bill) in 1987 and signed by Gov. Branstad.  No more stealing from Peter to pay for Paul, as in the bill signed by Gov. Reynolds.  Yes to accountable and sustainable funding for the Leopold Center


Ralph Rosenberg is a former legislator from Story County. He also served as director of the Iowa Environmental Council.