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Science Policy Report

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Note: Due to the Congressional recess, there will be no Science Policy Report on August 24. The next SPR will be posted on September 7.

Thank you, The Science Policy Office team.

12 September 2012

In This Issue:

International Corner

~ 12 innovations to combat drought, improve food security, and stabilize food prices
~ U.S. drought could pinch world's poor, says think tank IFPRI
~ Recurring droughts highlight need to better manage water resources
~ Another jolt to global food prices
~ Promoting agricultural development to meet future food and energy challenges

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ Agriculture and Food Research Initiative: Food Safety
~ Environmental Education Regional Grants -- Solicitation Notice for 2012
~ NSF Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability Fellows
~ Innovation Corps Teams Program
~ Innovation Corps Sites Program
~ Small Business Innovation Research Program Phase I Solicitation FY-2013
~ Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) Restoration
~ Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) Monitoring

Conferences, Meetings and Reports

~ Climate change educational video
~ Superintendent and Associate Professor is sought by Montana State University in Bozeman
~ Dust Bowl and 1988 both eclipse 2012 drought, scientists say

Congressional/Administration News

~ Obama calls on congress to pass stalled farm bill
~ FAPRI report highlights differences between Senate and House ag committee farm bills
~ Livestock groups urge EPA to waive ethanol mandate
~ Waiver's impact remains uncertain
~ Worst corn harvest in six years may add to pressure for disaster aid
~ USDA drought resources for stakeholders
~ USDA chief scientist releases science white papers

International Corner


(TOP) ~ 12 innovations to combat drought, improve food security, and stabilize food prices

The Worldwatch Institute, as part of its Nourishing the Planet project, and in light of the intensifying drought conditions affecting corn and soybean crops in the Midwest, has highlighted 12 agricultural innovations that it says can help make the United States and global agriculture more drought resilient, as well as sustainable. The innovations include agroforestry, soil management practices, increasing crop diversity, improving food production from existing livestock, smaller irrigation systems, integrated farming systems and others. Read full article


(TOP) ~ U.S. drought could pinch world's poor, says think tank IFPRI

Drought in the U.S. farm belt may result in higher prices for poor people around the world, according to the head of an agricultural think tank who also recommended a halt to ethanol production from corn. Shenggen Fan, director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute, said the global spike in food prices in 2008 showed how poor crops and tight supplies have wide impact. Read full article


(TOP) ~ Recurring droughts highlight need to better manage water resources

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is proposing a new framework for water management in agriculture, “Coping with Water Scarcity: An Action Framework for Agriculture and Food Security.” The FAO framework stresses that the following areas are where policy and action should focus: modernization of irrigation; better storage of rainwater at farm level; recycling and re-using of water; pollution control; and, substitution and reduction of food waste. The reduction of post-harvest losses, says the FAO, must also be part of any water scarcity coping strategy. Reducing such losses – an estimated 30 percent of all food produced globally is lost or wasted along the value chain from field to fork – would reduce pressure on natural resources that are essential to food production, such as soil and water. Read full article
 


(TOP) ~ Another jolt to global food prices

The latest price report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has reported that its food price index jumped by 6 percent in July. This was largely because of rising grain prices, with the drought in the U.S. and its expected impact on the corn harvest being the biggest factor. The cereals component of the index jumped 17%. The report is a reversal of the recent trend in food prices, which had declined for three straight months and it is a reminder that the global food crisis that came to a head in 2008 and again in 2011, with riots in dozens of countries, is by no means over. And they could rise further as the impact of higher feed-grain prices works its way through meat and dairy markets. Cereal prices stand only slightly below their all-time peak levels in April 2008. The high temperatures and droughts of recent years, which many scientists say have become more likely because of human-induced climate change, are turning into a serious stress on the food system. Rising demand in developing countries is also a major factor. Many experts are worried that future demand cannot be met at prices the world’s poor people can afford. Reacting to the report, groups campaigning against hunger demanded that governments in the advanced countries redouble their focus on poor farmers in developing countries. Steps have been taken in that direction since the crisis peaked in 2008, but they remain inadequate, in the view of some of those groups.


(TOP) ~ Promoting agricultural development to meet future food and energy challenges

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is pleased to release a new issue brief, entitled, “Promoting Agricultural Development to Meet Future Food and Energy Challenges”. This is the second in a series of briefs, based on the topics discussed in the new Chicago Council dinner series, Open Table: Exploring the Potential of Agriculture to Alleviate Hunger and Poverty. Open Table brings together leaders from different sectors working across the value chain in a small group setting to engage in thought-provoking conversations about critical trends and issues affecting the agriculture and food sectors. Read full brief

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities


(TOP) ~ Agriculture and Food Research Initiative: Food Safety

This AFRI Challenge Area promotes and enhances the scientific discipline of food safety, with an overall aim of protecting consumers from microbial and chemical contaminants that may occur during all stages of the food chain, from production to consumption. This requires an understanding of the interdependencies of human, animal, and ecosystem health as it pertains to foodborne pathogens. The long-term outcome for this program is to reduce foodborne illnesses and deaths by improving the safety of the food supply, which will result in reduced impacts on public health and on our economy. In order to achieve this outcome, this program will support single-function Research Projects and multi-function Integrated Research, Education, and/or Extension Projects, and Food and Agricultural Science Enhancement (FASE) Grants that address one of the program area priorities. Deadline 5 Dec. Read full announcement here
 


(TOP) ~ Environmental Education Regional Grants -- Solicitation Notice for 2012

Under this solicitation EPA is seeking grant proposals from eligible applicants to support environmental education projects that promote environmental stewardship and help develop knowledgeable and responsible students, teachers, and citizens. This grant program provides financial support for projects that design, demonstrate, and/or disseminate environmental education practices, methods, or techniques, as described in this notice, and that will serve as models that can be replicated in a variety of settings. Under this solicitation EPA expects to award environmental education grants from the 10 EPA Regional offices. Deadline 21 Nov. Read full announcement

 


(TOP) ~ NSF Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability Fellows

Through the SEES Fellows Program, NSF seeks to advance science, engineering, and education to inform the societal actions needed for environmental and economic sustainability and human well-being while creating the necessary workforce to address these challenges. The Program's emphasis is to facilitate investigations that cross traditional disciplinary boundaries and address issues of sustainability through a systems approach, building bridges between academic inquiry, economic growth, and societal needs. The Fellow's proposed investigation must be interdisciplinary and allow him/her to obtain research experiences beyond his/her current core disciplinary expertise. Fellows are required to develop a research partnership(s) that will advance and broaden the impact/scope of the proposed research, and present a plan for their own professional development in the area of sustainability science and engineering. Deadline 26 Nov. Read full announcement
 


(TOP) ~ Innovation Corps Teams Program

The National Science Foundation (NSF) seeks to develop and nurture a national innovation ecosystem that builds upon fundamental research to guide the output of scientific discoveries closer to the development of technologies, products and processes that benefit society. In order to jumpstart a national innovation ecosystem, NSF has established the NSF Innovation Corps Teams Program (NSF I-Corps Teams). The NSF I-Corps Teams purpose is to identify NSF-funded researchers who will receive additional support - in the form of mentoring and funding - to accelerate innovation that can attract subsequent third-party funding. The purpose of the NSF I-Corps Teams grant is to give the project team access to resources to help determine the readiness to transition technology developed by previously-funded or currently-funded NSF projects. Deadline 17 Dec. Read full announcement
 


(TOP) ~ Innovation Corps Sites Program

In order to contribute to a national innovation ecosystem, NSF is establishing the NSF Innovation Corps Sites Program (NSF I-Corps Sites). Sites are funded at academic institutions, having already existing innovation or entrepreneurial units, to enable them to: Nurture students and/or faculty who are engaged in projects having the potential to be transitioned into the marketplace. I-Corps Sites will provide infrastructure, advice, resources, networking opportunities, training and modest funding to enable groups to transition their work into the marketplace or into becoming I-Corps Team applicants (see NSF Innovation Corps Program, NSF 11-560). Develop formal, active, local innovation ecosystems that contribute to a larger, national network of mentors, researchers, entrepreneurs and investors. The purpose of an I-Corps Site is to nurture and support multiple, local teams to transition their ideas, devices, processes or other intellectual activities into the marketplace. Deadline Jan 7, 2013. Read full announcement
 


(TOP) ~ Small Business Innovation Research Program Phase I Solicitation FY-2013

The SBIR Program stimulates technological innovation in the private sector by strengthening the role of small business concerns in meeting federal research and development needs, increasing the commercial application of federally supported research results, and fostering and encouraging participation by socially and economically disadvantaged and women-owned small businesses. The SBIR program solicits proposals from the small business sector consistent with NSF's mission. Accordingly, NSF has formulated broad solicitation topics for SBIR that conform to the high-technology investment sector's interests. The four broad topics are: Biological and Chemical Technologies (BC); Education Applications (EA); Electronics, Information and Communication Technologies (EI); Nanotechnology, Advanced Materials, and Manufacturing (NM). Deadline 3 Dec. Read full announcement
 


(TOP) ~ Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) Restoration

The NRCS requests proposals for implementation of restoration activities on land enrolled in the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) from individuals and organizations that share a common interest in the conservation and restoration of wetland resources throughout Georgia. Services shall be provided throughout the State of Georgia. One (1) to two (2) grant agreements may be awarded as a result of this AFO. A single award may include multiple areas. Georgia NRCS anticipates that the amount available for support of easement restoration will be no more than $500,000. Applications are requested from eligible governmental or non-governmental organizations or individuals for competitive consideration of grant awards for projects between 3 years in duration. Deadline 18 Sep. Read full announcement
 


(TOP) ~ Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) Monitoring

The NRCS requests proposals for Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) annual monitoring services from individuals and organizations that share a common interest in the conservation and restoration of wetland resources throughout Georgia. Services shall be provided throughout the State of Georgia. One (1) to four (4) grant agreements may be awarded as a result of this AFO. A single award may include multiple areas. Georgia NRCS anticipates that the amount available for support of easement monitoring will be no more than $200,000. Applications are requested from eligible governmental or non-governmental organizations or individuals for competitive consideration of grant awards for projects between 3 years in duration. Deadline 18 Sep. Read full announcement
 

Conferences, Meetings and Reports


(TOP) ~ Climate change educational video

The National Research Council's Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate has produced an educational video series that helps to explain what climate is and the science behind climate change research. It gives a concise overview of some of the causes of climate change as well as a comparison of some of the current scientific evidence from around the world. Watch the video


(TOP) ~ Superintendent and Associate Professor is sought by Montana State University in Bozeman

The incumbent is responsible for the development of a field-oriented research program that focuses on disease management in pulse crops, sugar beets, and other crops under production in this Montana region. The successful individual will also provide expertise to other research programs in the Department, College and Montana Agricultural Experiment Station [MAES] as appropriate. Developing an integrated approach for disease management is expected. Additionally, the incumbent is responsible for the administration and management of resources in support of EARC's research and outreach programs pertinent to Montana agriculture. The position is a full-time (1.0 FTE) tenure track, fiscal year appointment [with] 65% research, 25% administration, and 10% outreach and has a start date of January 1, 2013. See full announcement


(TOP) ~ Dust Bowl and 1988 both eclipse 2012 drought, scientists say

For Midwest farmers and ranchers whose parched lands are gasping for rain, the 2012 drought is utterly devastating. For the scientists who take the long view of history, it's merely a climatological blip. On-the-ground reports sent to the National Drought Mitigation Center tell of stunted corn, dry ponds and dead cattle that have left farmers and ranchers across the central U.S. reeling. But despite the havoc wreaked on one of the nation's richest agricultural regions, scientists say this drought is practically embryonic compared with the severity and extent of others in America's past. The Dust Bowl held on for as many as eight years in some parts of the Great Plains and the multiyear drought of the 1950s began in the Southwest but eventually spread to cover 10 states before it ebbed in 1957. The current drought, in contrast, is about 2 months old. It’s been said that this year looks a lot like 1988: a summer-onset drought that hit in the Corn Belt, with conditions that came on and deteriorated rapidly, with big impacts to the agricultural community. That drought caused an estimated $40 billion in agriculture losses -- $78 billion in today's dollars, but it lasted only a year. So far, 2012 has seen record-breaking warmth with January to June 2012 as the hottest six months in the lower 48 states since federal records began in the 1880s, according to NOAA. NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center expects the drought to linger or intensify in the Midwest through the end of October, with temperatures remaining above normal, but it will depend in part on the behavior of the natural cycle that produces the El Niño weather pattern and its counterpart, La Niña.

Congressional/Administration News


(TOP) ~ Obama calls on congress to pass stalled farm bill

President Obama has called on Congress to pass the stalled five-year farm bill and said it, more than anything else, is the best way to combat the historic drought gripping most of rural America. "That's the single best way to help rural communities both in the short term and in the long term," Obama said. Obama made the comments at a meeting with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Small Business Administrator Karen Mills on the drought...Obama noted the "good bipartisan work done in the Senate," and said he hopes August recess will pressure Congress to finish the job. Read full article
 


(TOP) ~ FAPRI report highlights differences between Senate and House ag committee farm bills

Although the farm bills approved by the U.S. Senate and the House Agriculture Committee have much in common, the House Committee bill provides substantially more support to producers of some commodities, including wheat, rice, barley and peanuts. Production of those crops would be greater under the House Committee bill than under the Senate bill, while corn and soybean production would be greater under the Senate bill than under the House Committee bill, according to a new analysis by the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) at the University of Missouri. The FAPRI report focuses on the possible consequences of several key commodity program provisions in the two bills. Read full article
 


(TOP) ~ Livestock groups urge EPA to waive ethanol mandate

Livestock industries have petitioned U.S. EPA to grant up to a one-year waiver on the federal biofuels mandate, which requires the country to produce 13.2 billion gallons of corn ethanol this year, citing severe economic harm caused by soaring corn prices. In their waiver, industry trade groups are seeking a whole or partial waiver from the biofuels requirements for the rest of this year and part of 2013. Using corn for mandated ethanol production, they say, has driven up the price of livestock feed in the face of the drought. Under the Clean Air Act, the livestock trade groups are not expressly allowed to submit a waiver petition, however, the groups are filing for the petition under the Administrative Procedures Act, which gives interested people a right to petition rules. According to the 18-page document, keeping the standard intact "will so reduce the supply of corn and increase its price that livestock and poultry producers will be forced to reduce the size of their herds and flocks, causing some to go out of business and jobs to be lost." The effects, the petition says, will ripple through the meat, milk and poultry sectors and cause food prices to rise. EPA officials have signaled they are not leaning toward waiving the standard this time around, earning praise from the ethanol industry. The livestock groups have said that they were looking at every option to provide relief to their producers but that the government is limited in what it can do. Reducing the standard is one of the few choices available, they’ve said.


(TOP) ~ Waiver's impact remains uncertain

The effects of waiving the federal corn ethanol mandate are far from certain and will depend largely on how much incentive refiners have to produce less ethanol, according to a study released August 16 by Purdue University economists. If the price of ethanol remains lower than gasoline as it is today and refiners lack the technical capacity to quickly change their operations, then a waiver would have little to no effect on ethanol production. The impact would likely vary from refiner to refiner and from region to region. The analysis was conducted in response to requests from four livestock-state governors that U.S. EPA provide at least a partial, one-year waiver of the yearly corn ethanol mandates under the federal renewable fuel standard. In their petitions, the governors said the requirements have squeezed corn supplies, driving up the cost of corn used by livestock producers as animal feed. The economists did not judge whether EPA should waive the ethanol requirements but instead plugged various scenarios of gas prices, corn prices, refiner flexibility, carry-over renewable fuel credits and corn yields into simulations. Regardless of the renewable fuel standard and unless the market dynamics change, most refiners will probably continue blending ethanol at the same level for the rest of 2012 because it is economically attractive. The question is what will happen in 2013, when the federal corn ethanol requirements rise from 13.2 billion gallons to 13.8 billion gallons. Taking into account all factors and various drought conditions, a waiver would reduce the cost of corn anywhere from $0 to $1.30 a bushel. Carry-over fuel credits by themselves would reduce the price by about $0.67 per bushel. The ethanol industry touted the reports as evidence that waiving the renewable fuel standard was "unnecessary." "Congress and EPA built sufficient flexibilities into the RFS to ensure compliance is achievable even under the most abnormal and extreme circumstances, such as this summer's drought," said Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association. "These studies recognize the impact of that built-in flexibility and show that a waiver would not significantly contribute any additional further relief from drought-induced high corn prices." Livestock industries say the reductions in the corn price from a waiver are not insignificant, but there are still several uncertainties. EPA will have to take a careful look before deciding on a mandate one way or the other, the authors of the Purdue study said.


(TOP) ~ Worst corn harvest in six years may add to pressure for disaster aid

An assessment of the U.S. crop situation released by USDA is expected to further increase pressure on lawmakers to come up with relief for farmers and ranchers and on the EPA to lower the Renewable Fuel Standard for ethanol. USDA said drought-stricken farmers will harvest 123.4 bushels of corn per acre this year, which would be the lowest yield in 17 years. USDA projected total corn production at 10.8 billion bushels. That would be the smallest crop since 2006, which was before Congress raised and extended ethanol usage mandates, pushing farmers to expand acreage. In addition, USDA reduced its projection for feed use for corn, as well as the use of corn for ethanol. That is likely to intensify pressure on EPA from the livestock industry to lower the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) for corn ethanol. Anticipating that push, the Renewable Fuels Association issued a statement saying the forecast did not warrant waiving the standard this year but raising the possibility of lowering the mandate in 2013. For this year, they’ve said, there are ample stocks of ethanol and of carryover usage credits that refiners can use to comply with the mandate. USDA also raised its forecast for corn prices, saying it expects farmers to earn a record $7.50 to $8.90 per bushel on this year’s crop, up from last month’s forecast of $5.40 to $6.40 per bushel. The report indicated that pork and chicken production will be hit hardest by the drought-induced price increase. The House passed a $383 million disaster bill, but Senate Democrats refused to take up the measure, saying a farm bill would provide more significant aid than the limited legislation.


(TOP) ~ USDA drought resources for stakeholders

On Tuesday, August 7, President Obama convened his White House Rural Council for one of a continuing series of policy meetings to review Executive Branch response actions and to develop additional policy initiatives to assist drought stricken Americans.  Following the meeting, the White House announced several new measures to help those impacted by drought. The document includes updated drought resources as well as information on actions being taken by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other federal agencies to help the farmers, ranchers, small businesses, and communities being impacted. Get more information


(TOP) ~ USDA chief scientist releases science white papers

Dr. Catherine Woteki, USDA Chief Scientist, recently released peer-reviewed science papers that elaborate on USDA's Action Plan for science. Some of the biggest challenges facing us include - a changing climate, uncertain energy sources, rising childhood obesity rates, and food insecurity around the globe. The Action Plan provides an in-depth analysis of these challenges and identifies the roles of USDA’s science agencies in addressing them. A key part of making the goals of the Action Plan a reality is coordinating efforts across not only USDA’s scientific agencies, but with our Land-Grant University partners, other federal agencies, and other partners around the country and world. See the full action plan
 

Sources: Agri-Pulse; ClimateWire; Congressional Quarterly; FAO; Farm Service Agency; Food Industry Environmental Network; Greenwire; Meridian Institute; National Research Council; New York Times

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.