About the Leopold Center

Bear Creek National Demonstration Watershedgirl fishing in pondPigs in a hooped barnHandful of fertile soil

The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University was created to identify and develop new ways to farm profitably while conserving natural resources as well as reducing negative environmental and social impacts. The Center's work focuses on four initiatives: ecology, marketing and food systems, policy, and cross-cutting. Funding comes from state appropriations and from fees on nitrogen fertilizer and pesticides, as established by the 1987 Iowa Groundwater Protection Act.

The Center is named for Aldo Leopold (1887-1948), a native of Burlington, Iowa, known internationally as a conservationist, ecologist, and educator. He saw the need for development of a land ethic, outlined in his 1949 book of essays, A Sand County Almanac.

Mark Rasmussen is the Leopold Center director.  A 17-member Advisory Board advises the director on research proposal funding, policies, budget and program review.

As part of its long-standing Competitive Grants Program, the Leopold Center makes funds available to researchers, investigators, and educators at all Iowa colleges and universities, and at Iowa nonprofit agencies and foundations. These awards often act as seed money for other larger sources of funding for research projects. Since 1988, the Leopold Center has awarded more than 500 competitive grants.

The Center's mission includes an educational component to inform the agricultural community and the general public about its research findings. The Center collaborates with ISU Extension and Outreach and others to communicate research findings. It also supports conferences, seminars and special events related to the four research initiatives.

The Leopold Center has a national reputation for supporting cutting-edge research which is leading to significant dividends for Iowa -- cleaner water, better conservation of natural resources, and greater agricultural vitality.

Leopold Center impacts

Excerpts from the Iowa Groundwater Protect Act and creation of its research grant program [PDF]

Printable overview [PDF]

KHOI Ames Community Radio [mp3 file] interview with on the Center's history with Dennis Keeney, the Leopold Center's first director, and Ralph Rosenberg, a former Iowa legislator from Ames

John Obrycki Jr. academic research project focuses on the Leopold Center history

Climate Change and the Center's Perspective


Funding and Support

The Leopold Center’s primary funding stream is the Agriculture Management Account (AMA), one of four accounts that comprise the Groundwater Protection Fund, created by the 1987 Iowa Groundwater Protection Act. The legislation set a fee on nitrogen fertilizer sales and pesticide registrations to support about 20 environmental programs. The Center receives 35 percent of the AMA funds, or about $1,300,000 annually to carry out its mission.

A second source is an annual education appropriation of approximately $425,000. These funds are earmarked to support many of the Center’s competitive grants. This appropriation is included as part of the Iowa State University budget.

The Center has received grants from other agencies and institutions. In many cases, the Center is simply the fiscal agent or requestor, with funds going directly to other organizations or groups involved in the project. For example, federal funds supported the work to reduce practices leading to the Gulf of Mexico hypoxia zone, or Dead Zone.

Contributions and donations

The ISU Foundation accepts and manages all gifts made to support programs in the ISU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, including the Leopold Center. Interested donors may make gifts online at the ISU Foundation website. This site includes instructions for making a gift or pledge. The established account number 0125322 should be used to designate gifts for the Leopold Center.  The “Friends of the Leopold Center” consists of people who contribute $1,000 or more to the Center’s general fund. 

Donors also may gift stock, real estate or personal property, or may choose to make a deferred commitment through a will bequest, charitable remainder trust or other gift planning vehicle. Contact Director Mark Rasmussen to discuss major gifts to the Leopold Center, 515-294-3711, markras@iastate.edu.