Iowa Citizens are not anti-ag. They are anti industrial ag.

(Denise O'Brien, who was the Democratic nominee for Iowa secretary of agriculture in 2006, farms with her husband at Rolling Acres Farm in Cass County. She co-authored this post with staff from the non-profit Pesticide Action Network. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Below is a response to the article that was published on December 5th. The piece was submitted but not published. It was written in collaboration with staff from Pesticide Action Network:

Contrary to Mr. Lehr’s inflammatory remarks to the recent Iowa Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting, the trend of Iowans paying attention to agricultural practices is a far cry from the state rejecting farming. Iowans have a deep appreciation for agriculture. They want what is best for food production, and for the state... A healthy dialog about farming practices isn’t something to fear – it can help make Iowa a healthier and more economically secure place to live. 

Iowans who question the industrial agribusiness approach aren’t under-informed or confused, as Mr. Lehr suggests. In fact, many of them are farmers of all sizes, and they know quite a bit about biotechnology and agricultural chemicals. They know because they see the cost of seed rising with each new genetically engineered trait that’s introduced. They face pesticide drift that damages crops and brings hazardous chemicals into schools, playgrounds, and backyards. They pay the price in taxpayer dollars, as public utilities filter more nitrates out of drinking water. They see growing rates of autism, Parkinson’s, and cancer, all of which are linked to exposure to pesticides. They worry about respiratory diseases linked to air quality issues from animal confinement operations.


 What Mr. Lehr is hearing are legitimate concerns about soil, air and water quality; conditions that continue to decline with the dominant monoculture approach. Iowans understand very well that the state’s legacy is farming.  They also understand that over the last fifty years Iowa has become specialized in growing corn, soybeans, hogs and chickens. This specialization has come at a cost.


When people like Lehr travel the country promoting industrial agribusiness their sole purpose is to polarize: dividing large growers from small growers, dividing farmers from consumers. This approach creates an environment of hostility and makes it virtually impossible to dialog to seek solutions. If you need one reason to distrust the intentions of the Heartland Institute, look to its history of manipulating science research—like working with Big Tobacco to downplay the risks of secondhand smoke exposure.


Instead, more and more Iowans are setting their sights on a different kind of agriculture: one based on the belief that what’s good for the land is also better for farmers, farmworkers, consumers, and ecosystems. It’s about paying close attention to what’s happening on the farm and catching pest problems early. It relies on healthy soil, good seeds, and free-flowing information among farmers, who learn from each others’ successes.


Farm Bureau President Craig Hill has a point when he says that innovation can change our world. Innovation comes from farmers developing new practices, not just from corporate boardrooms and laboratories. Many farmers are conducting their own on farm research with Practical Farmers of Iowa and researchers from Iowa State University, University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa to develop better techniques for farming in a way that works with nature, rather than dominating her.


Perhaps Secretary of Agriculture Northey could make it a priority during his administration to bring together farmers, of all sizes and practices, with non-farmers to work on solutions to make Iowa a better place to live and work?

Iowans are known for their hard work and commitment to problem solving. Let’s put our heads together, women and men, farmers and nonfarmers to move Iowa forward with creative thinking to develop new ideas for the future of our land and its people.


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  • for those who haven't seen it

    Here’s another account of Dr. Jay Lehr’s remarks to the Iowa Farm Bureau meeting.

    Lehr pointed out that one of the challenges Iowa agriculture is facing today is that an increasing number of the state’s residents don’t fully support the farming industry. Lehr, a senior fellow of the Heartland Institute, a nonprofit organization based in Chicago, said “Your biggest, most important industry is agriculture, but you and I know that there are many people in this state who don’t support agriculture and have accepted the negative attitudes of anti-ag environmental zealots who say agriculture is bad for the land, bad for the environment, and not sustainable. We know that is wrong.”

    Lehr said critics may not have a good understanding of modern farming, including biotechnology, used to make plants resistant to pests, disease and adverse weather conditions, and technology, used to increase yields and reduce the amount of fertilizers, pesticides and other inputs used.  Lehr said he is traveling the country, challenging farmers and others to commit two hours a month talking with non-farm friends, family and acquaintances about how modern agriculture works.

  • and here's another good response

    to Lehr’s remarks by Mike Delaney, president of Citizens for a Healthy Iowa and founder of the Raccoon River Watershed Association. In an op-ed piece the Des Moines Register published on December 9, he pointed out that the Heartland Institute “has a track record of turning a blind eye to long-acknowledged science for the sake of advancing its own pro-business, anti-regulation agenda.”

    One way they do this is through partnerships with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization that shapes and advocates for laws in statehouses around the country. According to, Heartland frequently has “functioned as a publisher and a promoter of ALEC’s model legislation” and sits on several ALEC task forces, including one for agriculture. […]

    The truth is that Iowa has some very real problems to deal with in the coming years in terms of water quality issues tied to the use of fertilizers and manure in farm fields. Iowa farmers will have to play a key role in solving those problems, and their voices must be heard.

    But environmentalists aren’t going to apologize simply for seeking measurable results.

    That’s not being negative. It’s using common sense.