Branstad vetoes provision to dismantle ISU’s Leopold Center

Source: By Jeff Charis-Carlson, Des Moines Register • Posted: Monday, May 15, 2017

The governor of Iowa used his veto authority Friday to save an agricultural research center that a majority of state lawmakers voted to dismantle. But the center’s future remains uncertain because it was not appropriated any state funds in this year’s fiscal budget.

Gov. Terry Branstad rejected provisions in the Iowa Legislature’s budget bill for agricultural, natural resources and environmental protection that called for eliminating the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University.

About $1.5 million in state funds previously directed to the Leopold Center — or nearly three-quarters of the Center’s total operating budget — will be shifted to ISU’s Nutrient Research Center.

“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 ISU’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to continue valuable research into environmental and water quality issues,” Branstad wrote in a note explaining his veto.

Branstad approved all other provisions within the bill.

“I think it’s good news, because the Leopold Center is almost a trademark, and I would hate to see it completely go away,” said Doug Gronau, the chairman of the center’s advisory board. “But everything is still up in the air.”

Gronau said the board is scheduled to meet in June — “at what was supposed to be our last meeting” — where members will talk through the various options available for collaborating with the officials in the ISU College of Agriculture.

State Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, praised the center’s thousands of supporters for their success in persuading the governor to spare the center. But Quirmbach also pointed out that a section Branstad left in the bill appears to hamper the functioning of the center.

“I have initiated an inquiry to the governor’s office to determine whether or not the failure to veto this section was intentional and, if so, how the governor’s office intends for the Leopold Center to proceed,” Quirmbach said in a statement.

ISU officials said they would begin looking 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,” John McCarroll, a spokesman for ISU, said via email Friday.

“It is also meaningful to many alumni, center partners and stakeholders who have been impacted in some way by education or research results in the three decades the Leopold Center has operated.”

The Legislature’s agriculture budget for 2018 directs $38.8 million to state programs through the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the Department of Natural Resources and the Board of Regents — a reduction of about $4.3 million from the 2016 budget year.

Republican lawmakers said getting rid of the Leopold Center was one of the many difficult decisions that had to be made in crafting the 2018 state budget, necessitated by a tight budget and lagging revenue. They said other priorities took precedence.

Closing the center completely would have raised many questions about how to maintain the data, ongoing studies and other resources made available through the center.

“It would have been a big loss for agriculture,” said Brandi Janssen, director of Iowa’s Center for Agricultural Safety and Health.

Reach Jeff Charis-Carlson at or 319-887-5435. Follow him on Twitter as @JeffCharis.