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Science Policy Report

Address all comments to the Science Policy Office at:
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Note: Due to the August recess, there will be no Science Policy Report on August 23. The next SPR will be posted on September 6.

Thank you, The Science Policy Office team.

09 August 2017

In This Issue:

Policy News

~ Societies request meeting with EPA head in advance of climate change debate
~ Crop breeders sprout plan to boost public sector research
~ House approves security “minibus” with defense, energy funding
~ GOP push to shift state water policy away from conservation
~ Trump donated $100,000 for a science camp. What should it look like?
~ House budget resolution vote punted to September?
~ Scientists fear Trump will dismiss blunt climate report

Science News

~ Registration open for 2017 ASA, CSSA, SSSA Annual Meeting
~ Two linked genes for soybean mosaic virus resistance
~ Corn could be major victim of climate change
~ Biochar could clear the air in more ways than one
~ Inside the Global Seed Vault, where the history and future of agriculture is stored
~ Fertilizers, a boon to agriculture, pose growing threat to U.S. waterways
~ Gulf of Mexico ‘dead zone’ is the largest ever measured
~ National Soil Health Measurements to accelerate agricultural transformation
~ The power of food system investments to boost regional economies
~ Water quality impacts of willow in an agricultural landscape
~ Meeting: The Future of Water, Food, and Energy
~ National Science Board seeks nominations for appointments to the board

International Corner

~ Indian scientists taking to streets en masse
~ Loss of fertile land fuels 'looming crisis' across Africa
~ Planet has just 5% chance of reaching Paris climate goal, study says
~ Chinese plant scientists plan massive effort to sequence 10,000 genomes

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program
~ Military REACH
~ Innovations in Food and Agricultural Science and Technology (I-FAST) Prize Competition
~ Great Lakes Resilience Project Grants
~ Small Business Innovation Research Program - Phase I
~ North Central SARE - Research and Education Grant Program

Policy News


(TOP) ~ Societies request meeting with EPA head in advance of climate change debate

18 scientific societies including ASA, CSSA and SSSA, signed on to a letter to EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, requesting a meeting on the current state of climate science. The letter is in response to Pruitt's call for a climate change debate which would be modeled in part on the “red team/blue team” exercises common in the military to help leaders identify vulnerabilities. The letter restates the current scientific consensus on climate change and reminds Pruitt that scientific research already undergoes a process similar to the "red team/blue team" approach "whereby scientists and scientific teams are constantly challenging one another’s findings for robustness." Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Crop breeders sprout plan to boost public sector research

Universities need to get better at sharing patented seeds and other products of publicly-funded agricultural science if the United States wants to keep producing bountiful harvests, argues a new report from a group of leading academic researchers. The 50 researchers also call on the federal government to provide better funding for crop breeding efforts at public universities, and for universities to develop new ways of steering revenues from popular crop varieties back into research. The recommendations come amidst growing concern about the future of public-sector plant breeding programs. Public breeding has been withering, however, as it has become increasingly dependent on less reliable, short-term funding sources that make it difficult to sustain a year-round breeding program. And it has been hampered by intellectual property practices that can make it difficult to share genetic material and other resources. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ House approves security “minibus” with defense, energy funding

After two days of amendments, the full House passed its security “minibus,” the Make America Secure Appropriations Act, on a party-line 235-192 vote. The legislation packaged four individual bills into a single vehicle in an effort to show progress on spending before the annual August recess began this week. Science and technology programs across these bills — which cover the Departments of Energy, Defense, and Veterans Affairs — fare far better than they would have under the White House budget request, but many programs are still lined up for some reduction. The House appropriations committee had originally zeroed out funding for the Department of Energy's (DOE’s) five "energy innovation hubs," but an amendment offered restored funding for the hubs. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ GOP push to shift state water policy away from conservation

With a friend in the White House and their party in control of both chambers of Congress, House Republicans have embarked on their most ambitious effort yet to change the way water flows in California. Legislation that the House sent to the Senate last week outlines a bold effort to build big new dams and shift water from fish, birds and other wildlife to farms in the San Joaquin Valley. The legislation would dry up long stretches of the state’s second-longest river, the San Joaquin, and end efforts to restore its obliterated salmon runs. It would downgrade the water rights of the wildlife refuges that make up the last patches of California’s interior wetlands. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Trump donated $100,000 for a science camp. What should it look like?

The U.S. Department of Education announced last week that President Donald Trump will donate $100,000 from his salary to the agency to support a summer camp for students focused on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). But the White House and the Department of Education released no details about the planned camp, leaving many STEM professionals uncertain about what the Trump administration has in mind. Here they offer Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and President Trump some unsolicited tips for running a successful camp. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ House budget resolution vote punted to September?

Before leaving for the August recess, House leadership punted a vote on the 2018 budget resolution until at least September. The budget resolution typically sets the overall spending contours for Congressional appropriators. This year’s resolution, approved by the House Budget Committee earlier this month, has tax and entitlement reform as its major goals, but also recommends a big boost for defense discretionary spending at the expense of nondefense discretionary spending — a recommendation similar to what the White House proposed. However, the Budget Committee’s plan doesn’t have much chance of passing the Senate, where 60 votes would be required to modify current law to change the caps. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Scientists fear Trump will dismiss blunt climate report

The average temperature in the United States has risen rapidly and drastically since 1980, and recent decades have been the warmest of the past 1,500 years, according to a sweeping federal climate change report awaiting approval by the Trump administration. The draft report by scientists from 13 federal agencies, which has not yet been made public, concludes that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now. It directly contradicts claims by President Trump and members of his cabinet who say that the human contribution to climate change is uncertain, and that the ability to predict the effects is limited. The authors note that thousands of studies, conducted by tens of thousands of scientists, have documented climate changes on land and in the air. Read the full article.

Science News


(TOP) ~ Registration open for 2017 ASA, CSSA, SSSA Annual Meeting

Join more than 4,000 scientists, professionals, educators, and students at the 2017 International Annual Meeting, "Managing Global Resources for a Secure Future," on Oct. 22-25, 2017, in Tampa, Florida. Early Bird pricing ends Sept. 7; register today!


(TOP) ~ Two linked genes for soybean mosaic virus resistance

Soybean mosaic virus (SMV) causes significant yield loss and seed quality deterioration in soybean. In the United States, SMV was classified into seven strains, G1 through G7, and three host resistance loci, Rsv1, Rsv3, and Rsv4, were identified. Rsv1 is the most common and diverse locus with 10 different alleles conferring differential plant reactions to SMV strains, and it was mapped to a very complex resistance-gene-rich region on chromosome 13. A recent study published in Crop Science evaluated whether Rsv1-y allele in York soybean belongs to the Rsv1 locus. The researchers provided the first evidence that Rsv1 and Rsv1-y are two tightly linked loci conferring resistance to different SMV strains. The Soybean Genetic Committee approved a new symbol of Rsv5 designated for the resistance gene in York to replace the original Rsv1-y allele assignment. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Corn could be major victim of climate change

The weather has always been an unpredictable element of agriculture, but climate change is expected to make matters significantly worse. Determining how much worse has historically been a challenge. A new study, however, says climate-induced drought could hit several of the world's major corn producing regions all at once. The findings are alarming. The annual probability of severe water stress impacting the regions is as high as 30 percent, or one in three years. In the U.S., the chance of all six Corn Belt states simultaneously experiencing severe water stress is about 20 percent per decade. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Biochar could clear the air in more ways than one

Biochar is ground charcoal produced from waste wood, manure or leaves. Added to soil, the porous carbon has been shown to boost crop yields, lessen the need for fertilizer and reduce pollutants by storing nitrogen that would otherwise be released to the atmosphere. Biochar from recycled waste may both enhance crop growth and save health costs by helping clear the air of pollutants, according to Rice University researchers. Rice researchers in Earth science, economics and environmental engineering have determined that widespread use of biochar in agriculture could reduce health care costs, especially for those who live in urban areas close to farmland. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Inside the Global Seed Vault, where the history and future of agriculture is stored

It's been called the doomsday vault, the vault that will preserve the seeds of life after a catastrophic event. Cary Fowler is the creator of the vault, but he doesn't much like the doomsday title. He prefers the official name, the Global Seed Vault. It stores and protects nearly a million samples of crop varieties from about 5,000 different species with the mission of safeguarding the diversity of our agricultural crops in perpetuity, in spite of war, pestilence and climate change. Part of what makes the vault safe is its location, just 700 miles from the North Pole. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Fertilizers, a boon to agriculture, pose growing threat to U.S. waterways

Nitrogen-based fertilizers, which came into wide use after World War II, helped prompt the agricultural revolution that has allowed the Earth to feed its seven billion people. But that revolution came at a cost: Artificial fertilizers, often applied in amounts beyond what crops need to grow, are carried in runoff from farmland into streams, lakes and the ocean. New research suggests that climate change will substantially increase this form of pollution, leading to more damaging algae blooms and dead zones in American coastal waters. A study published Thursday in Science concludes that eutrophication, excessive nutrient enrichment, is likely to increase in the continental United States as a result of the changes in precipitation patterns brought by climate change. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Gulf of Mexico ‘dead zone’ is the largest ever measured

Scientists have determined this year’s Gulf of Mexico “dead zone,” an area of low oxygen that can kill fish and marine life, is 8,776 square miles, an area about the size of New Jersey. It is the largest measured since dead zone mapping began there in 1985. The annual forecast, generated from a suite of NOAA-sponsored models, is based on nutrient runoff data from the U.S. Geological Survey. Both NOAA’s June forecast and the actual size show the role of Mississippi River nutrient runoff in determining the size of the dead zone. This large dead zone size shows that nutrient pollution, primarily from agriculture and developed land runoff in the Mississippi River watershed is continuing to affect the nation’s coastal resources and habitats in the Gulf. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ National Soil Health Measurements to accelerate agricultural transformation

For scientists, farmers and ag policy makers, one nagging question has yet to be completely “unearthed:” Just how healthy (or unhealthy) are the nation’s soils? The concept of soil health is gaining widespread attention because it promotes agricultural practices that are not only good for the farmer, but also good for the environment. An abundance of research shows that improving soil health boosts crop yield, enhances water quality, increases drought resilience, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, increases carbon sequestration, provides pollinator habitat, and builds disease suppression. To help implement widely-applicable, consistent measures of soil health, the Soil Health Institute announces its endorsement of 19 national soil health measurements. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ The power of food system investments to boost regional economies

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, in partnership with the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s offices of Rural Development and the Agricultural Marketing Service, have released Harvesting Opportunity: The Power of Regional Food System Investments to Transform Communities, a compilation of research, essays and reports that explores the potential for the growing popularity of locally sourced food to be harnessed to boost economic opportunities for rural and urban communities. Through the work that was conducted to develop the book, “we also learned that, with appropriately targeted policies and support, the attendant opportunities can advance the economic and financial security of low- and moderate-income households and communities.” Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Water quality impacts of willow in an agricultural landscape

Multifunctional landscape design in the agricultural sector attempts to improve the resiliency and sustainability of agricultural systems while providing additional benefits. However, as new strategies are developed to address multiple needs associated with the water, energy, and food nexus, the effectiveness and efficiency of such designs need to be evaluated. In a paper recently published in the Journal of Environmental Quality, researchers report on a six-year field study that assesses the strategic placement of short rotation shrub willow buffers into a continuous corn rotation field in central Illinois on water quality and biomass production for bioenergy. This ongoing study found that willows reduced nitrate leaching into the shallow subsurface water by 88% by the end of their first growth cycle, suggesting that this is an effective nutrient reduction strategy. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Meeting: The Future of Water, Food, and Energy

Join The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on September 5 in San Francisco, CA for an evening with three experts who have studied the past, present, and future of clean water, food, and energy. Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute will share his thoughts on the evolving technologies that could be vital to providing water to a growing global population. Jonathan Foley, Executive Director of the California Academy of Sciences will outline the size of the food challenge and the new approaches and technologies that are needed to sustainably meet demand. Saul Griffith, CEO of Otherlab, will share his recent work on mapping energy flows in the U.S. economy and how those might shift to address a host of issues including climate change. The talks will be followed by a Q&A with the committee that is authoring the study. Learn more and register here.


(TOP) ~ National Science Board seeks nominations for appointments to the board

The National Science Board (NSB) is accepting nominations for eight Board members who will serve from 2018–2024. The National Science Foundation (NSF) Act of 1950 created the Board with 24 Members serving 6-year terms. The Act confers on the Board the dual responsibilities to oversee the activities of and establish policies for NSF, as well as advise the President and Congress on policy matters related to science and engineering and education in science and engineering. Every two years, the Board solicits recommendations for new members from leading scientific, engineering, and educational organizations, as well as the public, and submits them to the White House for consideration. Members are formally appointed by the President. Nomination deadline, September 8. Read the full announcement.

International Corner


(TOP) ~ Indian scientists taking to streets en masse

Inspired by this past April’s global march for science, Indian scientists are gearing up for their own march in more than 30 cities on 9 August, organizers announced today. Their main beefs are anemic science funding and growing religious intolerance. India’s science investments are minuscule compared with those of China and South Korea. One pillar of Indian R&D that’s suffering is the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT), a nationwide network of 23 research and teaching institutions. March organizers are demanding that the Indian government boost R&D spending as a percentage of gross domestic product from roughly 0.85% in 2016 to 3% of GDP. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Loss of fertile land fuels 'looming crisis' across Africa

Population swells, climate change, soil degradation, erosion, poaching, global food prices, and even the benefits of affluence are exerting incredible pressure on African land. Data from NASA satellites reveals an overwhelming degradation of agricultural land throughout Africa, with more than 40 million Africans trying to survive off land whose agricultural potential is declining. At the same time, high birthrates and lengthening life spans mean that by the end of this century, there could be as many as four billion people on the continent, about 10 times the population 40 years ago. It is a two-headed problem, scientists and activists say, and it could be one of the gravest challenges Africa faces: The quality of farmland in many areas is getting worse, and the number of people squeezed onto that land is rising fast. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Planet has just 5% chance of reaching Paris climate goal, study says

There is only a 5% chance that the Earth will avoid warming by at least 2 degrees C come the end of the century, according to new research that paints a sobering picture of the international effort to stem dangerous climate change. Global trends in the economy, emissions and population growth make it extremely unlikely that the planet will remain below the 2C threshold set out in the Paris climate agreement in 2015, the study states. The Paris accord, signed by 195 countries, commits to holding the average global temperature to “well below 2C” above pre-industrial levels and sets a more aspirational goal to limit warming to 1.5C. This latter target is barely plausible, the new research finds, with just a 1% chance that temperatures will rise by less than 1.5C. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Chinese plant scientists plan massive effort to sequence 10,000 genomes

Hopes of sequencing the DNA of every living thing on Earth are taking a step forward with the announcement of plans to sequence at least 10,000 genomes representing every major clade of plants and eukaryotic microbes. Chinese sequencing giant BGI and the China National GeneBank (CNGB) held a workshop on the sidelines of the International Botanical Congress to discuss what they are calling the 10KP plan. The 10KP plan will be a key part of the Earth BioGenome Project (EBP), an ambitious and still evolving scheme to get at least rough sequence data on the 1.5 million eukaryotic species, starting with detailed sequences of one member of each of the 9000 eukaryotic families. Read the full article.

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities


(TOP) ~ Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program

The National Science Foundation Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program seeks to encourage talented science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) majors and professionals to become K-12 mathematics and science (including engineering and computer science) teachers. The program invites creative and innovative proposals that address the critical need for recruiting and preparing highly effective elementary and secondary science and mathematics teachers in high-need local educational agencies. The program offers four tracks: Track 1: The Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarships and Stipends Track, Track 2: The NSF Teaching Fellowships Track, Track 3: The NSF Master Teaching Fellowships Track, and Track 4: Noyce Research Track.  In addition, Capacity Building proposals are accepted from proposers intending to develop a future Track 1, 2, or 3 proposal. Deadline, August 29. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Military REACH

NIFA requests applications for the REACH for FY 2017 to provide high-quality resources for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) in the form of research and professional development tools across the spectrum of family support, resilience, and readiness. Only land-grant institutions are eligible to receive the award through the REACH program. Eligible land-grant institutions include all 1862, 1890, and 1994 land-grant institutions. Deadline, September 5. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Innovations in Food and Agricultural Science and Technology (I-FAST) Prize Competition

USDA NIFA in partnership with the National Science Foundation (NSF) Innovation Corps (I-Corps) to provide entrepreneurship training to USDA NIFA grantees under this I-FAST program. The goal is to identify valuable product opportunities that can emerge from NIFA supported academic research. Selected USDA NIFA I-FAST project teams will have the opportunity to concurrently participate in the educational programs with NSF I-Corps awardees. Over a period of six months the USDA NIFA supported teams in the I-FAST program will learn what it will take to achieve an economic impact with their particular innovation. The final goal of the I-FAST Competition is to facilitate technology transfer of innovations that can make an impact in the marketplace and the global economy. Pre-application deadline, September 8. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Great Lakes Resilience Project Grants

New York Department of Environmental Conservation Description New York Sea Grant and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) have announced the availability of up to $200,000 in grants for Great Lakes resilience projects. Eligible projects must use a complete ecosystem-based approach rather than a single issue or single species focus, incorporate stakeholder participation, and address key priorities in the New York Great Lakes Action Agenda to enhance community resiliency and ecosystem integrity through restoration, protection, and improved resource management. Stated goals include conserving and restoring native fish and wildlife biodiversity and habitats to achieve and sustain resilient ecosystems and vibrant economies. Deadline, September 22. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Small Business Innovation Research Program - Phase I

Funds may be awarded up to $100,000 for a Phase I project. Proposed Phase I projects should prove the scientific or technical feasibility of the approach or concept. Projects dealing with agriculturally related manufacturing and alternative and renewable energy technologies are encouraged across all SBIR topic areas. USDA SBIR's flexible research areas ensure innovative projects consistent with USDA's vision of a healthy and productive nation in harmony with the land, air, and water. USDA SBIR Program has awarded over 2000 research and development projects since 1983, allowing hundreds of small businesses to explore their technological potential, and providing an incentive to profit from the commercialization of innovative ideas. Click below for more SBIR information. Deadline, October 5. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ North Central SARE - Research and Education Grant Program

The North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (NCR-SARE) is seeking grant funding pre-proposals for its Research and Education Grant Program which address issues of sustainable agriculture of current and potential importance to the North Central Region. NCR-SARE is interested in projects that lead to resilient agricultural systems. The Research and Education (R&E) Grant Program provides funds to collaborative teams of scientists, farmers/ranchers, institutions, organizations, and educators who are exploring sustainable agriculture through research projects or education /demonstration projects. Deadline, October 19. Read the full announcement.

Sources: USDA; NSF; NOAA; NAS; AAAS; ScienceInsider; The Washington Examiner; The San Francisco Chronicle; The Hill; New York Times; Science Daily; Bloomberg; The St. Louis Federal Reserve; NPR; Soil Health Institute; EurekaAlert; The Guardian;

Vision: The Societies Washington, DC Science Policy Office (SPO) will advocate the importance and value of the agronomic, crop and soil sciences in developing national science policy and ensuring the necessary public-sector investment in the continued health of the environment for the well being of humanity. The SPO will assimilate, interpret, and disseminate in a timely manner to Society members information about relevant agricultural, natural resources and environmental legislation, rules and regulations under consideration by Congress and the Administration.

This page of the ASA-CSSA-SSSA web site will highlight current news items relevant to Science Policy. It is not an endorsement of any position.