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Column: Ag research plays key role in growing Iowa's economy

By DAVID JOHNSON, Iowa State Senator

DES MOINES, Iowa ­— With a key deadline looming that will spell life or death for hundreds of bills, state lawmakers have been rushing from meeting to meeting this week in this annual rush to judgment.

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Friday is the first “funnel,” a self-imposed and much-needed deadline for a Senate bill to win committee approval in order to be eligible for debate by the full chamber. Likewise, House bills have to be out of their committees by that date. The exceptions are bills dealing with taxes and spending, which remain “alive” until the final gavel falls on the session.

In the meantime, the Capitol rotunda has been buzzing with groups from around the state keeping legislators up to date through exhibits on a variety of projects and programs. Thursday, for example, was STEM Day on the Hill — that’s the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics initiative to keep Iowa students competitive with their peers in other states. STEM is designed to equip students with the creative skills needed in the workforce of today and tomorrow.

Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds is co-chair of the governor’s STEM Advisory Council and a tireless advocate for the program. Following remarks by Gov. Terry Branstad to open the STEM exhibition, Reynolds pointed to a number of STEM projects, including one that linked Spirit Lake and Okoboji high school students with Polaris Industries at the company’s expanding Spirit Lake facility.

Here’s the message: We have highly skilled job opportunities right here at home, right here in northwest Iowa.

On Wednesday, I joined other lawmakers in meeting leaders representing Iowa State University, including Clay County cattleman Jim Christensen of Royal. Hats off to Jim for his leadership in an effort to raise awareness among legislators and Iowans on the important role the ISU Agriculture Extension Station plays in strengthening Iowa agriculture and the state economy.

Innovative, advanced research at ISU helps livestock producers improve their operations through more efficient management; tests and develops soil conservation practices that enhance water quality and soil health; boosts crop yields and provides better pesticide management; and through rural policy leaders is seeking a $2.8 million increase for the ISU Experiment Station, and I support that request.

From the group’s mission statement: “Increased investment for the Agriculture Experiment Station is needed to generate the science and technology necessary to solve real-world problems experienced by Iowa’s farmers and producers every day.

“Nearly 750 active research projects are tied to scientists supported by the Agriculture Research Station — research in plants, animals, natural resources, food and nutrition, energy, economics and more. Science-based information … reaches every county in Iowa through ISU Extension and Outreach and research and demonstration farms guided by local stakeholders.

“Economic studies show the annual rate of return to society from publicly funded agricultural research is 50 percent and higher. State investment in the Agriculture Experiment Station is highly leveraged. Over the last three years, the Agriculture Experiment Station has leveraged $137 million for research.”

In the days ahead, I will be involved with legislation dealing with elder abuse prevention and education, e-cigarette regulation, anti-bullying in Iowa schools, and mental health and disabilities services.

In the wake of an unexpected spike in the cost of propane during this very cold winter, the Senate approved $2 million in state funds to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. I voted for the bill.

Public forums: Other northwest Iowa legislators and I will be at the following forums where you can hear updates, ask questions and give comments on legislation:

8 a.m. Saturday: Forster Community Center, Rock Rapids

9 to 10:30 a.m. March 1: Eggs and Issues, Spencer City Council Chambers;

11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. March 1: Hedberg Theater, Maritime Museum, Arnolds Park.

Your questions and comments are always welcome. You can reach me in the Iowa Senate by calling (515) 281-3371 and leaving a message; or by e-mail at

David Johnson of Ocheyedan represents Iowa Senate District 1 — all of Clay, Dickinson, Lyon, Osceola and Palo Alto counties.