During 2011 the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship celebrated 25 years of serving Iowans. The Iowa legislature conducted government restructuring in 1986 and the outcome was the creation of the Department in its current form.
The Iowa Department of Agriculture was created in 1923 and the state soil conservation agency was created in 1939. The primary change made in 1986 was merging the Iowa Department of Agriculture with the Iowa Department of Soil Conservation.
“The programs and responsibilities within the Department continue to evolve, but its mission remains to provide leadership for all aspects of Iowa agriculture, ensure consumer protection, support food safety and animal health, and promote the responsible use of our natural resources,” said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey.
Currently there are approximately 335 employees of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and they are responsible for a wide range of programs that touch the life of every Iowan. Both Iowans living on the farm and those in our towns and cities are impacted by the work of the Department.
There are four Divisions within the Department: Administration, Consumer Protect and Industry Services, Foods Safety and Animal Health, and Soil Conservation.
The Division of Soil Conservation contains about half of the Department’s employees and provides farmers with expertise and funds to help them install practices that preserve our highly productive soil, prevent erosion and protect our critical waterways.
Historically the Division has focused primarily on preventing soil erosion, but in recent years has expanded efforts to protect water quality and reduce nutrient delivery to the waterways of the state. The Division also has a Mines and Minerals Bureau that works to reclaim abandoned coal mine, limestone, sand and gravel sites that have significant environmental impacts, including acid mine drainage, clogged streams, and hazardous water bodies.
The work of the Division, in cooperation with many federal, state and local partners, has helped make Iowa a national leader in the implementation of water quality and watershed projects, soil conservation, buffer programs, and mined land reclamation. Iowa currently leads the nation in the continuous conservation reserve program buffer initiative with more than 600,000 acres. Iowa currently has more than 60 active watershed and water quality projects across the state.
“Moving the Department of Soil Conservation to the Department 25 years ago was a significant moment in our history and the anniversary gives us an opportunity to reflect where we have come from and where we are going as an organization,” Northey added.
The Consumer Protection & Industry Services Division and a Food Safety & Animal Health Division contain a wide variety of inspection and promotion programs, including regulating meat processing, commercial feed and fertilizer, grain warehouse oversight, pesticide application, and dairy production and processing. The Weights and Measures Bureau makes sure both buyers and sellers are treated fairly at the gas pump, grocery store or grain elevator.
The State Climatologist, Entomologist, and Veterinarian are also all part of the Department. Other areas of responsibility for the Department include Agriculture Statistics, Homeland Security and the Iowa Horse and Dog Breeding program.
The State Horticulturalist, also a key part of the Department, helps promote the more than 230 farmers markets located across the state and helps administers the Farmers Market Nutrition Program for seniors and residents participating in the WIC program. The Department is also involved in agricultural diversification and has an organic inspection program.
The Century and Heritage Farm program, which recognizes farms that have been in the same family for 100 or 150 years respectively, is also run by the Department in partnership with the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.
The Department’s responsibilities continue to change to this day. Just this year, Governor Branstad and the legislature acted to move a number of programs to the Department in order to improve efficiency. The programs moved to the Department include egg inspections, dairy survey officers, Iowa Agriculture Development Authority, the Renewable Fuels Infrastructure Board and the Water Resources Coordinating Council.
Throughout its existence, the Department has had a wide variety of programs and responsibilities that continue to change. Programs that have moved out from the Department include restaurant inspection (now part of the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals) and agriculture trade promotion (now part of the Iowa Economic Development Authority).
“We don’t know what the next 25 years will hold, but we look forward to continuing to serve the people of Iowa,” Northey said.