Governor Terry Branstad’s line-item veto earlier this year of a provision that would have eliminated Iowa’s Leopold Center was little comfort to conservation advocates considering Republicans slashed nearly all the program’s funding. The Leopold Center focuses on sustainable agriculture research, and its defunding was seen as part of a continuing Republican effort to undermine clean water projects. So 3rd Congressional District candidate Austin Frerick is proposing going around state government actors entirely to keep the center operating.
Frerick is rolling out a new policy idea today that would establish a reliable source of federal funding for the Leopold Center and similar institutions through the 2018 Farm Bill.
“The Leopold Center exists to conserve Iowa’s resources, so we’ve lost that intellectual hub,” Frerick told Starting Line. “It shows we don’t care. I thought the whole thing was vindictive, the way they cut it. There’s numerous examples of all the good they do, why the last-minute rush to do something? That’s why I’m pursuing a federal policy.”
He’s looking at adding language to the Farm Bill that is similar to some put in the 2014 version that related to commodity programs. That provided mandatory funding to universities and extension organizations that were teaching farmers about commodity title options. Frerick would modify that section to include funding for programs that informed farmers about conservation and sustainable land use options.
The Leopold Center was a rather small expenditure in Iowa’s overall budget, but that didn’t save it from this past legislative session’s cuts. They got $1.5 million annually from a tax on nitrogen fertilizer and $400,000 from the Regents. Only about $200,000/year remains from an endowment fund. The last Farm Bill in 2014 authorized just under $1 trillion in spending over a ten-year span.
“This is a sustainable model for a sustainable center,” Frerick explained. “Because it’s mandatory, that funding comes every year so they can plan out long-term grants, not just at the whim of appropriators.”
The plan could also encourage more cooperation between sustainable agriculture researchers around the country, and could help the USDA’s overall Soil Health initiative.
Frerick, who worked in the U.S. Treasury, lives in Madison County and is a self-described “policy wonk,” has centered most of his early campaign focus on agricultural and environmental issues. He plans on putting out many more solution-oriented policy ideas throughout the course of his candidacy as a way to stand out in the large Democratic primary, but also so that he’s prepared to hit the ground running if he’s elected.
“You’ve got to be ready,” he said. “Let’s say I’m fortunate enough to be part of a wave that brings back Congress in 2018. You want to be ready to go. This is the time to start thinking about what we want to do.”
One of his goals with it is to help voters and Iowans as a whole overcome the urban and rural divide. He sees many issues where there’s actually a lot less conflict than what often gets portrayed through state politics, and where better understanding of both sides’ motivations could help in getting to a solution.
“Part of the Leopold Center is what are sustainable models, but also how can we look at the farmer perspective and know why they’re doing what they’re doing,” Frerick said. “There’s not an understanding of the farmer viewpoint. People have to understand when corn went from $3/bushel to $7/bushel, a lot of farmers took a lot of conservation efforts, especially in the 3rd District. Well, corn’s come back down to $3/bushel. So a lot of them are now under water, they’re pushing their land. They’re just trying to make it now. They would like to do these conservation programs, but they need to feed their family.”
So far in his campaign, Frerick has also been vocal in opposition to the Monsanto-Bayer merger and has called on the EPA to halt the usage of Monsanto’s dicamba herbicide.
by Pat Rynard