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by Dr. Wendy Wintersteen, Dean, Iowa State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Just as agriculture is critical to the success of Iowa's economy, agriculture must be central to the success of protecting our natural resources.

It always amazes me to see statistics about the value of Iowa's leading industry. From 2002 to 2011, Iowa's agricultural production grew 212 percent in value-added (gross domestic product, GDP) compared to 53 percent value-added growth for the total state economy. During the same period, agricultural manufacturing grew more than twice as much as nonagricultural manufacturing - 56 percent value-added versus 27 percent.

Agriculture and related industries add about $72.1 billion to the state economy. Iowa farmers are national leaders in corn, soybeans, hogs, eggs and ethanol. Iowa's agricultural exports, now valued at around $7 billion, continue to grow as demand from other countries increases.

Agriculture and agricultural sciences are poised to lead in writing the next chapter of economic growth and job creation in Iowa.

That's why it's so important that agriculture also lead in preserving our natural resources. The state of Iowa, including essential research and extension support from Iowa State University, should do all it can to help farmers use science-proven or emerging practices that protect water resources.

We continue to work on research to improve nutrient management practices on Iowa farms. One key way that research is moving forward is through the Iowa Nutrient Research Center at Iowa State University. This month the center launched a set of webpages, where the first funded projects are summarized, led by teams of scientists at Iowa State, University of Iowa and University of Northern Iowa. Results will help address gaps in knowledge and help farmers make better decisions.

Iowa State University was a partner in the development of the new statewide nutrient reduction strategy. We will continue to partner for the implementation of the Water Quality Initiative. This month, a new water quality program manager starts work for ISU Agricultural and Natural Resources Extension. Jamie Benning will bring coordination to our existing and new resources on the issue.

The state of Iowa must work to ensure every farmer understands what tools and practices best fit their unique land and water situation. Every farmer must understand how important their individual efforts are. Every farmer should feel encouraged that they are a contributor in making a collective difference to water quality.

Just as the world looks to Iowa for agricultural production, we should strive to be sure the world looks to Iowa for clean water solutions.

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