Planting seeds of change
AMES – A handful of Iowa residents gathered May 26 with Paul Tauke, state forester, in a continuing effort to keep the state nursery in Ames open.
Not wanting to bite off more than planners can logistically chew, Tauke told the gathering he wants to submit incremental policy changes designed to get the nursery on a balanced-budget footing.
The first effort, he said, is proposing price hikes to nursery stock, some almost doubling, and a few minor policy changes.
Those attending supported the price hikes, but said charging more for seedlings it will not be enough to keep the nursery open. Other policy changes will be required.
The nursery, Tauke said earlier this year, has been losing money during each the past eight years totaling $1.455 million – the worst being 2014 when its accounts went into red ink by $500,000.
State law requires the nursery to be self-sufficient, not supported by taxpayers.
The May 26 meeting, Tauke said, was to garner comments from the public about the price hikes.
This is all in a preliminary stage, Tauke said. The process will take May 26’s comments to the state’s Natural Resources Commission to seek authorization to approach the state’s administrative rules commission for final approval.
Tauke said if the NRC approves the proposal, another public comment time will likely be held in late summer. After that, the NRC will be updated on the second round of comments and, if still approving, can pass the issue to the administrative rules commission.
Full adoption of price increases may be in January 2016, Tauke said.
Bill Lillienthal, of Duncombe, asked if the price hike will lead to fewer trees sold.
Tauke said it may, but the nursery would need to sell only a million trees to break even.
The nursery annually grows, processes and distributes about 1 to 1.5 million trees and shrubs that are planted for forestry, wildlife, erosion control and beautification.
When challenged about other policy changes that will free the nursery to distribute its seedlings in other ways, Tauke said he intends to move incrementally.
“If you have a rule (change) with lots of moving parts,” he said, “even if they support you, you can confuse them.”
He said since the process of changing administrative rules is long, he wants to propose price hikes separate from more controversial changes, which may draw the ire of private nurseries.
“If the controversial changes get defeated,” he said, “at least we’d have the price hikes.”
In the nursery’s early days, when it was supported by taxpayers, private nurseries objected, saying they were competing directly with the state government.
So the state legislature required the nursery must become self-sufficient.
Tauke said the nursery is basically funded one-third through federal grants, one-third state grants and one-third self-generated income.
“I don’t know if the nursery will remain open or not,” Tauke said. “Bur until I’m told it’s closing, we’re going to act like we’re open.
“But the decision is not up to me.”
He said he knows there is much support among Iowa landowners for keeping the nursery open, “but it still needs the revenue to stay that way.”
Those recording their comments at the May 26 meeting were:
- Lillienthal said he supported the price hikes and they should be approved quickly. But, he said, “policy makers should be looking farther ahead.”
- Arlan Boelman, a small farm operator in Johnston, said he has 10.5 acres in wetlands and pastures and has purchased his trees and shrubs from the nursery since 2003.
“I bought trees from private nurseries and the cost is prohibitive,” he said. “Even with the doubled prices, I’m willing to pay it.”
He said the trees are hardy and, he added, the nursery ought to be self-sufficient.
- Ralph Storm, of Stratford, said he plants trees against erosion along his property on the Boone River in Hamilton County.
He’s willing to pay the higher prices, he said, because price does not influence his decision on buying the nursery’s seedling stock.
“The trees are native to Iowa,” he said. “I need bare-rooted trees, not potted plants.”
- Larry Herron, of Webster City, a former conservation officer, supported the price increase and other changes needed to keep the nursery open.
“Price is not a big factor,” Herron said, “but I’d like to see more promotion of the trees.
“A need is coming for programs like this. Farmers will soon learn they can’t keep planting in marginal ground.”
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