Documents: ISU Ag College Pushes Back vs. GOP Effort to Defund Leopold Center [Updated]

On Tuesday, word began to spread that Iowa Republicans planned to defund Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, which over the past three decades has contributed significantly to agricultural research in the state. Since 1987, the center has been funded through state taxes on nitrogen fertilizer and pesticides.

State Rep. Cecil Dolecheck, R-Mount Ayr, told reporters on Tuesday that the Leopold Center’s work on soil erosion and pollution from farm runoff was no longer necessary. “Most people would tell you that farmers have been educated to that point, the research has been put in place whether it’s cover crops, waterways, those type of things,” he said, adding that sustainable ag research could continue within ISU’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

But the dean of that college, Wendy Wintersteen, is pushing back. In an email she sent to colleagues today along with a letter to Grow Iowa Agriculture — which she described as “a grassroots group of citizens that has been supportive of our legislative requests linked to the Agriculture Experiment Station and to Veterinary Medicine” — and a set of talking points prepared yesterday for President Steven Leath’s office (both embedded below), Wintersteen informed them she has been working with university administrators to address the Statehouse proposal to eliminate the center’s funding. A letter signed by 12 alumni of the college was later sent to lawmakers on the education appropriation subcommittees and agriculture and natural resources committees of the House and Senate (that letter is also embedded below).

GOP lawmakers also want to cut funding to the University of Iowa Flood Center, which conducts flood projection research. If it loses its $1.5 million in state funding, according to Larry Weber, one of the center’s directors, the U of I could lose a federal grant worth close to $97 million.

In her email, Wintersteen also linked to a call to action distributed this morning by the Alliance for Iowa State, a coalition of alums, students, and faculty affiliated with the ISU Alumni Association that strongly opposes the plan to defund the center. (Later in the day, the Iowa Farmers Union, an advocacy group for family farmers, urged its supporters to call lawmakers and request that they hold a hearing on the center’s funding.)

The Board of Regents is also opposed, according to state Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, an Ames Democrat, who said she spoke to a board lobbyist about it at the Capitol. Board spokesperson Josh Lehman later confirmed this, saying in an email: “The Board of Regents is actively working to secure necessary state appropriations for the Regents enterprise, and that includes funding for both the Leopold Center and Iowa Flood Center.”

Corporate ag interests have taken aim at the Leopold Center in the past (and Dolecheck has received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from agribusiness interests). ISU’s Ag College is heavily supported by Big Ag, and in 2005 Wintersteen herself abruptly removed Fred Kirschenmann from his role as director of the center, saying it had been neglecting “key stakeholders” under his leadership, making him a distinguished fellow instead.



Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.