Iowa farmers asked Republican lawmakers Monday to reconsider plans to eliminate an agriculture research center they say is vital to the state's largest industry.
Farmers spoke out against the proposed elimination of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at a hearing where other citizens also criticized proposed budget cuts for higher education and victims' services, as well as the loss of federal family planning money.
GOP lawmakers hope to approve a roughly $7.2 billion budget this week as they hurry to adjourn the session, but with $110 million less than last year's approved budget, deep cuts are being felt across the state. Republican Rep. Pat Grassley, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said it's impossible to fund every interest given the state's revenue shortages.
"We know we're making tough decisions, but we're to a point where we have to prioritize," Grassley said. "If there are budget adjustments made, it's not going to be because miraculously all this new revenue appears."
Mark Peterson, board president of Practical Farmers of Iowa, said many farmers view the Leopold Center, which for 30 years has studied best practices for sustainable agriculture, as a "moral compass" for farming.
Aaron Lehman, president of the Iowa Farmers Union, which supports independent family farms, called the proposed elimination of the center a "devastating blow" to farmers who rely on the Iowa State University center for its research to increase efficiency and profit. He said farm income is expected to drop for the fourth consecutive year, making it more vital than ever.
"Now is not the time to pull the plug on farmer-friendly innovations," Lehman said. "I understand that the state budget forecast put this proposal into play, but I can assure you that the situation for our farmers, and the Iowa landscape, is much worse."
Grassley said that when the Leopold Center began there was an expectation the organization would seek private donations.
"In the last year, or several years, there's been very little to no private fundraising," Grassley said. "It's not necessarily targeting anything, regardless of what the cut is in the budget, but trying to make sure we can fund our priorities."
Mark Rasmussen, director of The Leopold Center, said private donors do contribute funds and the organization also seeks grants. Rasmussen said the original bill language allowed the center to seek outside funds, but never mandated it.
The Iowa Farm Bureau, among the state's most powerful lobbying groups, doesn't have an official stance on the proposed closure of the center, said spokeswoman Laurie Johns.