Reflections on serving as a member of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture Visioning Task Force

posted on Thursday, March 1, 2018

By Ann Robinson, Former IEC Agriculture Policy Director

The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University was created through the 1987 Iowa Groundwater Protection Act, to identify and develop new ways to farm profitably while conserving natural resources as well as reducing negative environmental and social impacts. 

The Visioning Task Force for the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture (LCSA or the Leopold Center) is in the process of wrapping up its work and passing along recommendations to Iowa State University and the LCSA Board, after listening to Iowans around the state at a series of meetings that took place from August through January.

At the Task Force meetings -- and in the outpouring of support for the LCSA over the last year -- there have been innumerable examples of how the Leopold Center has admirably lived up to its mission, a mission as important as ever. These speakers emphasized the importance of the Center’s vision to help prepare for a future where the resiliency of our food system is increasingly important.

One of the most consistent messages from the public meetings has been the Center’s important role in supporting independent research and education, as I discussed with Amy Mayer of Iowa Public Radio recently at a Leopold Center Advocacy Day. With dwindling public support, research institutions depend more on corporate funding that is ultimately about bottom lines -- not the welfare of farmers, natural resources or rural communities.

Considering this, we can’t afford to lose public funding of independent research on the issues for which the LCSA has served as a broker of independent research and information.

There have been many ideas for future funding, some realistic and others more creative, such as a proposal to use $1 from tickets sold for ISU sporting events. An idea from several farmers is to fund the Leopold Center with fertilizer/pesticide tax based on the 1987 Groundwater Act’s original principle that the sources of pollution should help pay for solutions. Another consistent recommendation is for ISU to more aggressively seek funding for this world-class institution that helps attract – and retain -- talented graduate students and faculty here in our state.

The Visioning Task Force has heard a strong consensus that we need the Leopold Center to keep on asking and studying the hard questions, even though this could threaten the status quo. It is also evident that the LCSA needs to continue reevaluating its approach and engaging diverse interests to continue to nurture more sustainable, regenerative and profitable farms and rural communities in Iowa and beyond.

It has been an honor to listen to those who care enough about the work of the Leopold Center – and about Iowa – to attend meetings and offer input to the LCSA Visioning Task Force. The basic message I have to pass along: The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture makes Iowa a better place. Long may it serve. 

  1. land stewardship
  2. sustainable agriculture
  3. the leopold center
  4. visioning task force