Branstad "saved" ISU's Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture in name only

Governor Terry Branstad used his item veto power today to “preserve the existence” of Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, but he allowed provisions redirecting almost all of its funding to take effect. In his veto message on Senate File 510, the agriculture and natural resources budget, Branstad wrote,

I am unable to approve the items designated as Section 34, and Subsection 2 of Section 35, in their entirety. The veto of these particularly specified items will preserve the existence of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture while also maintaining the sections transferring funding to Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to continue valuable research into environmental and water quality issues.

Those sections of the bill repeal language establishing the Leopold Center from Iowa Code.

Under Section 30, which Branstad didn’t veto, the center will lose almost its entire operating budget, since revenue from a fertilizer tax (about $1.5 million annually) will be redirected to ISU’s Nutrient Research Center. The Leopold Center’s work was more broadly focused than that of the Nutrient Research Center, and less influenced by agribusiness groups. The separate Republican education budget zeroed out what had been a $400,000 appropriation to the Leopold Center from the Board of Regents.

Although the Leopold Center receives some income from an endowment managed by the ISU Foundation, Director Mark Rasmussen has said those funds are “wholly inadequate to keep the center functioning at any level of reasonableness.” Branstad told reporters last week he was concerned bequests to the Leopold Center “could be put in jeopardy if it were eliminated.”

The donors Branstad had in mind might as well revise their wills now. There’s no point leaving money to an entity that will be unable to support sustainable agricultural research in the future.

It’s a disappointing choice by the man who helped create the Leopold Center when he signed the landmark Groundwater Protection Act in 1986. Just as Republican lawmakers ignored the many Iowans who attested to the value of the center’s work at a public hearing or through written comments, Branstad was unmoved by the many calls and messages his office received in support of keeping the center running.

I am seeking comment from the governor and will update this post as needed.

UPDATE: Added below absurd spin from ISU.

Jeff Charis-Carlson reported for the Des Moines Register,

State Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, praised the center’s thousands of supporters for their success in persuading the governor to spare the center. But Quirmbach also pointed out that a section Branstad left in the bill appears to hamper the functioning of the center.

“I have initiated an inquiry to the governor’s office to determine whether or not the failure to veto this section was intentional and, if so, how the governor’s office intends for the Leopold Center to proceed,” Quirmbach said in a statement.

ISU officials said they would begin looking at options for the future of the center and opportunities for support through private philanthropy.

“The ability to retain the name of the center is meaningful to the university in that it continues the name recognition and reputation so important in recruiting prospective graduate students in sustainable agriculture,” John McCarroll, a spokesman for ISU, said via email Friday.

“It is also meaningful to many alumni, center partners and stakeholders who have been impacted in some way by education or research results in the three decades the Leopold Center has operated.”

Branstad’s failure to veto Section 30 of the bill was clearly intentional. His veto message refers to “transferring funding.”

McCarroll insults our collective intelligence. Why would any graduate students interested in sustainable come to ISU now that the Leopold Center won’t be able to function in any meaningful way?

SECOND UPDATE: Branstad misled reporters during his May 15 press conference. Brianne Pfannenstiel and Jeff Charis-Carlson reported for the Des Moines Register,

“They have already received significant bequests and other sources of funding, so they do have some other sources of funding,” Branstad told reporters at his weekly press conference. “But the Legislature had to make some tough decisions this year.” […]

“I supported the decision the Legislature made to redirect that money to the Department of Agriculture at Iowa State University for their nutrient reduction and water quality efforts,” Branstad said. “So I think that’s (an) appropriate use for the money. But I also felt eliminating the Leopold Center was not the appropriate public policy.” […]

Mark Rasmussen, who has been directed the Leopold Center since 2012, said Monday that the center would continue to earn about $200,000 in revenue from its endowment. That is not enough, however, for the center to continue as a source of grant funding for researchers.

Rasmussen, who also is a tenured faculty member in the ISU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said there was enough money on hand for the center to continuing funding its existing grants — with management of some of those grants being transferred to the Nutrient Research Center.

MAY 23 UPDATE: Eleven days after Branstad cut the legs out from the Leopold Center, I received this form letter reply to the comment I submitted through the governor’s website two weeks earlier.

Dear Laura,

Thank you for taking the time to contact the Office of Governor Terry E. Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds concerning the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. The Leopold Center was created in 1987 after Governor Branstad signed Iowa’s Groundwater Protection Act. Since its inception, the Leopold Center has sponsored various research projects on topics spanning water quality, conservation, biomass production, grazing, and local food systems.

The Iowa Legislature included language which would have eliminated the Leopold Center in Senate File 510, the agriculture and natural resources budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Ultimately, Governor Branstad chose to veto select items in the budget, effectively preserving the existence of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. In addition, Governor Branstad retained the sections of the budget transferring funding to Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to continue valuable research into environmental and water quality issues.

Again, thank you for reaching out to our office to share your views. Questions regarding the future activities of the Leopold Center should be directed to Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.


Office of the Governor
Kayla Lyon, Policy Advisor

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  • Saving it while killing it

    Words cannot express my contempt for this and some other decisions that Governor Branstad has made in recent years.

    This is also an example of how Big Ag rules Iowa in major scary ways. As another example, I heard on HORTLINE this morning (Iowa Public Radio) that researchers in Nebraska and Illinois have done research that clearly links the very serious problem of oak tatters, which is now affecting hackberry trees as well, to the use of certain agricultural herbicides.

    Then the speaker, a forester, said that similar research has been done in Iowa but that it has not been published(?!) Then he added something like “and that’s all I can say about that.”

    To me, his implication seemed to be that such research either can’t or won’t be published in Iowa because it would not be welcomed by Big Ag and/or might be a career-killer. I can believe that might be true. I know a few people who work or worked in agronomy at ISU, and the impression I get is that whatever one hears about agricultural politics in Iowa, the reality is worse.

    • I wrote the comment above before the John McCarroll quote was added...

      …and I’d like to thank Mr. McCarroll for making my point even clearer. Wow.

  • Update

    Branstad just implied in a REGISTER story that the Leopold Center has “significant” private funding, which might be amusing if the Center weren’t so important. I’m starting to feel a little sorry for China.