Paul Johnson: Undo ‘horrible mistake’

This op-ed originally appeared in the Des Moines Register on May 5, 2017.

Leopold Center co-founder to Branstad: Undo ‘horrible mistake’

Iowa is about agriculture. There is no place on Earth that does it better than Iowa. And there is no person associated with agriculture more revered than Iowa native Norman Borlaug. He is considered the father of what is known as the Green Revolution. Through his leadership in high-yielding grain hybrids, millions of people worldwide have been saved from starvation. Iowa honors Borlaug each year by hosting the World Food Prize.

Iowa is also about land stewardship. Most Iowa farmers think about land stewardship and practice it every day of their lives. And there is no person associated with land stewardship more revered than Iowa native Aldo Leopold. He is considered the father of what is known as the land ethic. Through his writings, millions of people worldwide have come to understand that land (soil, water, air, plants, animals and people) are all part of our community and deserve our care and respect. Thirty years ago, Iowa honored Aldo Leopold by establishing the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University.

Drive across Iowa today and you will see miles of vegetative buffers along rivers, streams and drainage ditches. The science behind these practices was, and continues to be, developed at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. This is just one of some 600 research projects that have been supported by the center over the past 30 years.

Unfortunately, the Iowa Legislature has decided to abolish the Leopold Center, saying, “mission accomplished” and we can no longer afford a couple million dollars of research each year to keep our agriculture and land healthy. This action is a horrible mistake. Fortunately, Gov. Terry Branstad has the last word. Before he heads off to China to represent our country, he can save the Leopold Center with a line-item veto of the Legislature’s mistake.

When Gov. Branstad reorganized Iowa government in the mid-1980s, our Department of Agriculture became the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. There is perhaps no nation that needs the legacy of our two native Iowans more than China. It would be a pity if Gov. Branstad goes to China with only Borlaug in his portfolio. To paraphrase Leopold and the Code of Iowa, bread and land stewardship grow best together.

PAUL W. JOHNSON of Decorah is a former Iowa representative and co-author of the law that created the Leopold Center.