Defunded Leopold Center asks for public input on future

Maggie Curry

A public listening session to gather input on the future of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture will be held Wednesday at 6 p.m.

The session is open to the public, will be held at the Jeff and Deb Hansen Agriculture Student Learning Center, 2508 Mortensen Road. The task force behind the session is looking for public input on how the center should move forward after loss of state funding.

Public comments also can be submitted online.

This spring, the Iowa Legislature passed legislation to defund and close the Leopold Center, which was just celebrating it’s 30th anniversary.

Then-governor Branstad used his line-item veto power to cancel the closure of the center, but redirected the funding to the Iowa Nutrient Resource Center. State funding had been approximately $1.7 million, according to the center, which had been distributed in grants to all fields of agricultural research.

“What the Leopold Center was for 30 years is done,” director of the center Mark Rasmussen said at the time. “The 10 percent of our budget we have left won’t cover much … The foundation earnings are a little over 200,000 [dollars] a year.”

As of July 1, the center’s only new revenues come from earnings from an endowment established by private giving held by the ISU Foundation. Principal funds must remain in the foundation, but interest can be used annually. 

This year, funds will support the ISU Graduate Program for Sustainable Agriculture, the Henry A. Wallace Chair for Sustainable Agriculture faculty position and some on-going grants that could not be terminated, according to the Leopold Center’s last quarterly newsletter.

The center cannot start a GoFundMe page because it is a government entity, the newsletter explains.

Wendy Wintersteen, endowed dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and Mark Rassmussen, director of the Leopold Center, named a visioning task force to hold the upcoming listening sessions. The 11-member task force is co-chaired by Rasmussen and Doug Gronau, who chairs the center’s advisory board. The task force is hosting the listening sessions to hear from attendees on how the center may move forward.

Other task force members are: John Gilbert, a farmer from Hardin County; Gail Hickenbottom of Practical Farmers of Iowa; Patti Naylor, a farmer from Greene County; Bob Riley of the Riley Resource Group, Pleasant Hill; Ann Robinson of the Iowa Environmental Council; Ron Rosmann, a farmer from Shelby County; Lisa Schulte-Moore, professor of natural resource ecology and management at Iowa State; Suzanne Shirbroun, a farmer from Clayton County; and Cody Smith, vice president of Iowa State University Student Government.

This is the first of several listening sessions to be held around the state, led by a task force that is gathering input from the public. Dates and times have not been announced for future sessions.