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Neighbors Growing Together | May 24, 2017

Branstad veto saves ISU’s Leopold Center

But funding for sustainable ag center still in question
By Vanessa Miller, The Gazette | May 15, 2017

Answering calls to save Iowa State University’s Leopold Center,  Gov. Terry Branstad on Friday vetoed legislative language that would have forced its closure.

In a series of line-item vetoes, Branstad cut wording in a Republican-backed measure that would have repealed Iowa Code sections authorizing the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, which for 30 years has developed methods for farming profitably while conserving natural resources and reducing environmental harm.

“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,” Branstad wrote in his explanation of the veto.

Funding for the center, however, remains in question.

The center last year received a state appropriation of $397,417, along with a portion — about 35 percent — of the Agriculture Management Account, a pool of funds set up by the 1987 Iowa Groundwater Protection Act. That pool includes fees on nitrogen fertilizer sales and pesticide registration. The Leopold portion amounted to about $1.5 million, according to Brian Meyer, communications director for ISU’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

As written, the legislation cut the Leopold Center’s line-item appropriation and moved its Agriculture Management Account portion to the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, which had its $1.3 million in state support cut. The intent of lawmakers was to shift the money from Leopold to the nutrient research center.

The governor’s veto Friday — while allowing the Leopold Center to continue — did nothing to alter its funding cuts and redirections, which amount to nearly $1.9 million.

So while the enterprise won’t be closed by mandate, it must find another funding source to stay afloat.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said that gives him hope.

“If the authorizing language stays and the university wants to make an effort, there are ways they could keep some level of authorization going,” he said. “Losing the (1.9 million) is going to hurt. But the university would have a fair amount of discretion as to being able to move money around.”

Quirmbach said he spent the last few weeks making phone calls daily, urging constituents to reach out to the governor, asking him to veto the legislative language eliminating the Leopold Center.

“If he were to do that so that the Leopold authorization stays in place, then if the university can find money to leave them afloat, and they live another year,” he said.

The university, according to Quirmbach, has some flexibility within its budget to find funding for the center.

But Iowa State, like the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa, are grappling with severe cuts in state appropriations for their general education budgets — both in the current year and in the one that starts July 1.

Iowa State spokesman John McCarroll said his institution is “pleased that the governor’s action today allows us to retain the Leopold Center.”

“Although it will operate without the state appropriation,” he said, “we will look 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.”

McCarroll on Friday told The Gazette that Iowa State had not taken any action to cut Leopold staff or sever projects — as it was waiting on the governor’s action. The center, according to Iowa State, has nine university employees — including three faculty and six staff members.

The Leopold Center provides about $60,000 annually to the graduate program in sustainable agriculture for the support of graduate students, through fellowships and assistantships, for example.

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