Beth Wessel-Kroeschell Has Introduced a Bill to Re-Fund the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture

On Tuesday morning, a grassroots coalition called Iowa Sustainable Agriculture met in Des Moines to call for new funding for Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, whose state funding Big Ag-aligned GOP lawmakers eliminated last year in an effort to shutter the center altogether.

The day before, Ames state Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell quietly introduced a bill to re-fund the center, which remains open at ISU, with Chuck Isenhart, a fellow Democrat from Dubuque. The bill — HF 2241 — would allocate $1 million from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship via the state’s general fund to the Leopold Center but “only to the extent that the allocated moneys are matched on a dollar-for-dollar basis with moneys that are contributed from a source or sources other than the state as certified by the president of Iowa [S]tate [U]niversity.”

ISU’s president is Wendy Wintersteen, the former dean of the college of agriculture and life sciences, who supported keeping the center open but who also has a rocky history with it. In 2005, she played a central role in forcing the widely respected sustainable ag advocate Fred Kirschenmann to step down as the center’s director, and five years later was involved in stopping former ISU professor Ricardo Salvador from becoming its director after the Iowa Farm Bureau voiced its opposition when he was the last candidate for the position remaining following a lengthy search process.

“Water quality is one of the most important issues facing Iowa today,” Wessel-Kroeschell told the Informer. “It was wrong to cut the Leopold Center last year and we must correct that.”

On Wednesday, 30 sponsors* joined on to the bill, all of them Democrats and including Ames state Rep. Lisa Heddens.

The bill has been referred to the House Appropriations Committee, which is chaired by Pat Grassley. Last year, Grassley voted in favor of the legislation to strip the Leopold Center of its funding (SF 510), which amounted to over $1 million a year from fees on nitrogen fertilizers. (“I don’t anticipate GOP support,” Wessel-Kroeschell said of her bill.) The money was redirected into the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, which, like the Leopold Center, is part of ISU’s college of agriculture and life sciences.

SF 510 would have also shut down the Leopold Center had it not been for a line-item veto by then-Gov. Terry Branstad to keep it open but reliant on donations and existing funds from an endowment.

* Correction: This post originally stated that 29 additional Democrats co-sponsored the bill after its introduction. In fact, 30 did.

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.