Introduced legislation to cease state funding to Leopold Center


The Leopold Center was created to help protect Iowa’s water, air and soil. It is depicted in this billboard that marked the Center’s 10th anniversary in 1997.

Alex Connor and Michael Heckle

A plan introduced in the Iowa Legislature recently would inevitably lead to the end of state support to research programs at two regent universities – one including the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. 

The Leopold Center, which was established in the late-1980s, was “created to identify and develop new ways to farm profitably while converting natural resources.”

The proposed plan by the legislature would essentially put an end to the center, removing the it’s ability to fund research in certain fields, according to a news release by Alliance for Iowa State, specifically in research projects on topics “spanning water quality, nutrient management, soil health, livestock grazing, cover crops, and local food systems development.”

If implemented, the cuts at the Leopold Center could negatively impact the entire state of Iowa, something Alliance for Iowa State believes goes against Iowa State’s land-grant mission.

It is estimated that by eliminating the Leopold Center, “would mean a loss of roughly $5 million a year to agricultural research initiatives.” 

The cuts are just a portion of the $20 million in spending cuts for the upcoming fiscal year proposed in the state budget for education Tuesday. 

The cuts to the Leopold Center – nearly $400,000 – would effectively end their work, according to staff as reported by the Associated Press. 

Carrol Brown, communications director for the Leopold Center, says cutting funding to the program would have a ripple effect across the state.

“It starts small, the budget line at the Iowa Legislature doesn’t look like it’s a large amount,” Brown said. “But when you start looking at the networking and the leveraging that our researches have done with those grant monies, it will start to ripple across the state.”

Brown says that because the center is funded by the legislature, they cannot lobby on their behalf, leaving it up to constituents to reach out to their representatives in order show support. 

Brown said cutting support to the Leopold Center could be disastrous for masters and doctorate students whose research is largely funding through the center. 

“We’ve got researchers on campus that have projects with us that have graduate students working… toward their master’s or Ph.D, so those projects will have to find funding elsewhere or not have those projects finished,” Brown said.

Brian Meyer, communications director for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, says that the mission of the Leopold Center is still relevant not only to CALS, but to the university as a whole.

Meyer said the center is “not a closed book” and the work that it’s done regarding water quality and natural resources is just as important as ever.

“The center, for many years has really done a great job of integrating both research and extension related to some very important issues related to conserving natural resources to really stimulating local economies around the state,” Meyer said. “The impact I think has been very great over the years.”

Iowa Sen. Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames), who voted ‘no’ to the bill while it was in subcommittee, says he is not giving up on the Leopold Center.

Citing the decrease in funding to regent universities, as well as the cuts made to the Leopold Center, as a “disaster,” Quirmbach, like Brown, encourages constituents to call their representatives and voice their opinion.  

“[Defunding the Leopold Center] would obviously be a disaster for a very important research center at the university,” Quirmbach said. “But the sort of collateral damage is what it would do to they research careers to a lot of the students there.”

Quirmbach also said that he promises to offer an amendment to the bill once it reaches the Senate floor.