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Livestock producers form Grow Iowa Ag to lobby legislators for ag research funding

By Jean Caspers-Simmet
simmet@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 02/06/2014 12:10 PM

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ROYAL — Jim Christensen sat through many Iowa State University Department of Animal Science External Advisory Board meetings in recent years and heard about cuts to the College of Agriculture and the Agriculture Experiment Station.

The cuts came at the same time the College of Agriculture was experiencing record enrollment.

"This was at the same time opportunities for Iowa agriculture to feed a growing world population were so great," said Christensen, who grows corn and feeds cattle near Royal with his wife, Julie. "We will need to produce twice as much food in the next 50 years as we have since the beginning of time. It seemed like a funny time to be cutting agricultural research."

Christensen spoke to Dean Wendy Wintersteen and animal science chairman Maynard Hogberg.

"I said I don't know what we're doing to get this money, but it ain't working," Christensen said. "They agreed and asked what I would suggest."

Christensen's idea was to get livestock producers from across the state who value agricultural research to come up with a game plan.

"It needed to be a producer-led group that wasn't really attached to another commodity group," Christensen said.

He and Greg Hora, a Fort Dodge pork producer; Eric Lyon, a dairy producer from Toledo; Dennis Casey, of Ankeny, who works with Hy-Line International; and Keith Aljets, a Williamsburg veterinarian, met six times to establish issues they wanted addressed. Hogberg, Wintersteen and Lisa Nolan, Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, also were part of the process.

"We looked at how Iowa agriculture can grow through investing in ag research, particularly animal agriculture," Christensen said.

Their efforts resulted in a 37-page document that they broke down to a six-page summary. Their initial goal was to replace ag research funding cut the past seven to eight years and shore up funding for the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and the College of Veterinary Medicine.

They met with ISU president Steven Leath, his chief of staff Miles Lackey and Joe Murphy, state relations officer at ISU with the Board of Regents.

"We told president Leath we were a producer-led group and that it was important to put money into the ag experiment line in the college of ag budget," Christensen said.

They were told a $2.8 million request would be made for the ag experiment station line, a 10 percent increase. Leath said he could use help in talking to the regents, Gov. Terry Branstad and legislators.

"We had anticipated that and put together a list of people from around Iowa who we felt were good leaders who would make calls, send emails and make visits to ask for increased funding," Christensen said.

Grow Iowa Ag hosted a kickoff meeting in Ames. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, Board of Regents Chairman Bruce Rastetter and Lackey were there along with 100 livestock producers and veterinarians. Another 40 said they would support the effort.

Christensen met with Branstad and Rastetter about the funding increase. The Board of Regents approved Leath's $2.8 million request, and when Branstad's new budget proposal calls for a $2.5 million funding increase to the College of Agriculture and Life Science's Ag Experiment Station.

"It wasn't $2.8 million, but it was 90 percent of that. and we're very happy with his commitment to put back lost ag research dollars we have given up over the past decade," Christensen said.

Grow Iowa Ag will host a breakfast for legislators Feb. 12 in Des Moines.

"We'll visit with legislators and explain the opportunity created for Iowa by increased ag research funding," Christensen said. "I think in the past it's been easy for legislators and the governor's office to cut the research budget because they never really had a political consequence. We'll tell them it's our livelihood. They're not just cutting ISU's ag research budget, they're hurting Iowa producers who produce high quality food to feed the world."

Visit Grow Iowa Ag's Facebook page at facebook.com/pages/Grow-Iowa-Ag/615622401812453?ref=stream, or email Christensen at jrcbeef@gmail.com.