Events coming up this week

Sometime this week the Iowa Senate will consider Senate File 390, the nuclear energy rip-off bill Bleeding Heartland discussed here and here. MidAmerican Energy, which would benefit from the bill, has given generously to Iowa legislators from both parties and to political action committees. Constituents need to urge senators to reject this bill, which would hurt consumers, or at least table it. MidAmerican is in only the first year of a three-year feasibility study on nuclear power in Iowa. The Senate switchboard number is (515) 281-3371, or you can e-mail your senator. The Sierra Club Iowa chapter created an easy e-mail form here and posted a four-page pdf with more background information: “MidAmerican Energy Company’s Misguided Pursuit of Nuclear Power: removing barriers, providing incentives, and skirting the existing regulatory process.”

The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation is hiring a Land Projects Associate to “provide support for 40-50 active land protection projects.” Click the link for the job description and skill requirements. Applications are due May 2. The 125-acre Bernau Prairie in Kossuth County is one recent example of a completed INHF land protection project.  

The Women, Food and Agriculture Network is accepting nominations for the second annual “Sustainable Farming Mom of the Year” award. Click here to view the 2010 finalists and winner. Nominations are due by 5 pm central time on Friday, May 6.

Trees Forever is seeking Iowans age 25 or younger to serve on its Youth Advisory Council. Applicants may be in high school, college or out of school. The Trees Forever site has more information on the council’s role.

Details on lots of events coming up this week are after the jump. Please post a comment or send me an e-mail if you know of another public event that should be mentioned here.

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ISU professor sounds alarm about future of Leopold Center

Iowa State University Professor Matt Liebman has warned university President Gregory Geoffroy that the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture risks losing its “national and international reputation for excellence in scholarship and service” unless ISU’s administration embraces the center’s mission and removes the it from the supervision of the College of Agriculture. Liebman is a professor of agronomy who holds the Henry A. Wallace Endowed Chair for Sustainable Agriculture. His three-page letter to Geoffroy has been making the rounds in the Iowa environmental community this week. I received it from multiple sources and posted the full text after the jump.

The impending departure of the Leopold Center’s interim director prompted Liebman’s letter. He notes the “rapid turnover” and “absence of stable leadership” at Leopold since 2005, as well as the “failed and controversial national search to fill the director position” last year. Bleeding Heartland covered that fiasco here and here. Following a national search, ISU offered the top job at Leopold to plant pathologist Frank Louws, the preferred candidate of the Iowa Farm Bureau. Corn expert Ricardo Salvador had received higher evaluations from the search committee, but ISU didn’t offer him the job even after Louws turned down the position. Since then, the Leopold Center has had interim leadership with no target date set for another director search.

In his letter to Geoffroy, Liebman said the “sense of uncertainty as to the Center’s future has also created wariness among those who might be applicants for the director’s position if and when a new search is initiated.” He reminded the ISU president that the 1987 Iowa Groundwater Protection Act defined a three-fold mission for the Leopold Center:

(1) identify the negative environmental and socioeconomic impacts of existing agricultural practices, (2) research and assist the development of alternative, more sustainable agricultural practices, and (3) inform the agricultural community and general public of the Center’s findings. It is important to recognize that this mandate creates, by design, a dynamic tension between conventional and alternative forms of agriculture. This tension is a healthy part of the Center’s work; it does not indicate the Center is failing to fulfill its mission or communicate effectively. The Center has a particular responsibility to focus on the environmental problems of agriculture and their solution.

In order to “to put the Center back on track and foster circumstances that would be conducive to a national search for a permanent director,” Liebman argued that the ISU administration

needs to demonstrate its unequivocal support for the Leopold Center’s three-part mandate. Specifically, it needs to re-affirm and embrace the Center’s work in defining the shortcomings of current agricultural systems, developing alternatives, and communicating findings. Without a clear indication from the university administration that dissenting opinions about agricultural sustainability are welcome and expected, I think it will be impossible to find a nationally renowned permanent Center director who personifies excellence in scholarship, communication, and service. The absence of a national search would indicate to many observers that the university no longer prioritizes a vibrant and widely respected Leopold Center.

Second, the university administration should move supervision of the Leopold Center to the offices of ISU’s President or Vice President for Research and Economic Development. […] The university would provide more prominence to the Leopold Center and enhance its impact by placing supervision of the Center at a higher administrative level, above the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

ISU’s Dean of Agriculture Wendy Wintersteen was widely criticized last year for her handling of the Leopold Center director search. Not only did she pass over the search committee’s top candidate, she informed Salvador that he did not get the job before her first choice had decided whether to accept the position. Salvador is highly regarded in the sustainable agriculture community and appeared in the documentary “King Corn.”

The Leopold Center’s work deserves more support from the university administration. ISU alumni or others with a connection to the university, please consider adding your voice to those urging Geoffroy to preserve the center’s excellence by increasing its independence.

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IA Ag Sec: Who's Afraid of Francis Thicke?

(The horror! - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Some farmers are afraid of me.

I know this because a farmer named Jerry wrote a letter to the Des Moines Register recently saying that they are scared.  It would be a “scary scenario for mainstream agriculture” if I got elected as Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, he said.   Francis Thicke is a “true believer in everything organic,” he shuddered.

Running for office is an adventure.  But I never expected to learn that Iowa farmers, who are among the most resilient, shrewd and creative people on the planet, are afraid of a mild-mannered organic dairy farmer with a PhD in Agronomy and some ideas for helping them meet challenges such as peak oil.   So I thought I would write him a letter to reassure him that I’m not scary, because if we don’t get our act together to deal with the real challenges of peak oil, the disruptions caused by climate change, and the growing monopoly power of corporate agribusiness, then we really will have cause for concern.

____________________

Dear Jerry,

Don’t be afraid.  This is America, and no one is going to make you “go organic.”  It’s the Big Ag interests that want to limit your choices, not me.   You might save money and protect water quality and the health of your family if you understood how to apply sustainable farming methods that do not require farm chemicals, but you don’t have to.

No one is going to force you to make your own biofuels on the farm from perennial crops that make your farm resilient and energy efficient.  Nor will you be forced to drive a hydrogen or ammonia-powered tractor with fuel derived from wind power.   If diesel prices soar in the next few years, as the Defense Department[pdf] is warning us, it’s your right to pay $6 a gallon or more and keep right on using it.  There may be shortages in our future by 2015, but I’m sure you’ll be able to find fuel at some price, somewhere.

You have the right to keep doing things the way you always have, and not take advantage of science-based ways to bring your costs down and prepare for a future without abundant petrochemicals.  All I am offering is a vision for a thriving agriculture in the absence of cheap oil, and leadership to meet the challenges that we know are coming.   Energy will be a huge game-changer over the coming decade–for agriculture, and for everything else.

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Events coming up during the next two weeks

This April is shaping up to be a relatively quiet month in Iowa politics, with the legislature already adjourned for the year. However, after the jump you’ll find details for many events coming up soon. Please post a comment or send me an e-mail (desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com) if you know of an event I’ve left out.

I have also posted information about an internship opportunity for women who would like to work on a sustainable farm, as well as a grant opportunity called “Iowa Sun4Schools.” It’s for Iowa schools that may want to install a solar array: “In addition to supplying electricity to the facility, the solar array will serve as an educational and research tool, and as a symbol of the schools commitment to saving energy and reducing their carbon footprint.”

UPDATE: Iowa nonprofit, charitable and government organizations have until April 16 to nominate people for the Governor’s Volunteer Award.

SECOND UPDATE: The Fred Phelps freak show is coming back to Des Moines on April 10 to protest a constitutional law symposium on same-sex marriage at Drake University. Click here for details about counter-protests being planned.

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Events coming up this week

I didn’t manage to compile calendars the past couple of weeks, but I wanted to get back on track today, because there are lots of newsworthy events happening in the coming week around Iowa.

I don’t think I’ll be able to make it to the DAWN’s List reception honoring outstanding Iowa Democratic women tomorrow. I’d appreciate it if someone who attends would post a comment or a diary here about the reception.

Other notable events this week include a symposium in Des Moines about Iowa’s 2008 floods, a sustainable communities conference in Dubuque, and a public workshop in Ankeny about competition and regulatory issues in the agriculture industry. Details on those and other happenings are after the jump.

Keep checking John Deeth’s blog for news about statewide, Congressional and state legislative candidate filings, which continue through March 19.

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Update on the Leopold Center's director search

Last month I posted about the controversy surrounding the search for a new director of Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. University officials offered the job to Frank Louws, a plant pathologist in North Carolina, although the search committee preferred Ricardo Salvador, the program director for the Kellogg Foundation’s Food, Health and Wellbeing program. Salvador is a corn expert and displayed a more “holistic perspective” about sustainable agriculture, which is probably why the Iowa Farm Bureau had expressed a preference for Louws. ISU’s Dean of Agriculture Wendy Wintersteen informed Salvador that he would not get the position before Louws had accepted the job. Typically, employers wait until they have a deal with their top candidate before telling other finalists that they didn’t get the job.

For about two months, Louws neither accepted nor declined the offer to head the Leopold Center. Meanwhile, ISU President Greg Geoffroy denied that he had been influenced by the Farm Bureau, saying he had followed “very strong advice” from Wintersteen and ISU’s Executive Vice President and Provost Elizabeth Hoffman. In the sustainable agriculture community, many people believe industrial agriculture interests influenced Wintersteen’s and Hoffman’s recommendation.

In any event, Louws has declined ISU’s job offer, the Ames Tribune reported yesterday. Wintersteen said North Carolina State University made him “a generous counter offer,” and Louws decided not to uproot his family.

According to the Ames Tribune, Geoffroy “advised [Wintersteen] to call Salvador back for a second interview” after Louws turned down the Leopold Center job. That interview has not yet been scheduled.

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