Budget bill would eliminate agricultural research center

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AMES, Iowa (KCCI) -- A well-known agriculture research center at Iowa State University could soon be on the chopping block, but advocates say they hope Gov. Terry Branstad reconsiders.

Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture leaders said they didn’t know about the bill that would close the facility until a few days ago. Some legislators said the center has completed its work and can now close.

“It’s an embarrassment to the state, I think, to lose an icon like the Leopold Center,” director Mark Rasmussen said.

For 30 years, the center has been researching and finding ways to improve and conserve natural resources, but if Branstad signs the budget bill, the center would close July 1.

“I’m particularly concerned about grants that have grad students budgeted in them,” Rasmussen said. “I’d hate to cancel a grant and then leave some grad students hanging partway through their program because the money was not available for them to finish their studies and project.”

This includes Leopold Center grant recipient Ashley St. Clair, who is in her third year of earning her Ph.D.

“It is really sad for graduate students like myself who directly rely on funding that was given to us from the Leopold Center to help look into aspects of sustainable agriculture,” St. Clair said.

She’s researching Iowa’s declining bee colonies and got a $100,000 grant, and because of the center’s initial investment, her work was able to help Iowa State attract a million-dollar grant from the United States Department of Agriculture.

“We’ve been trying to look into alternative options for beekeepers and what we can do to increase the survival of their colonies,” St. Clair said. “Some of the important things we’ve found is it seems to be a lack of fall forage available to our colonies.”

Rasmussen said lawmakers don’t understand what the center does.

“This is an embarrassment to the state of Iowa to move from sustainability when it’s a growing momentum across the country,” he said.

The governor has yet to sign the budget bill, so over the last couple of days, supporters of the center have been calling the governor’s office asking for a line-item veto to keep the center open.