Science Policy Report

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05 December 2012

In This Issue:

International Corner

~ Second attempt expected on science, tech visas
~ New chief for CSIRO land and water
~ Global irrigated area at record levels, but expansion slowing
~ Kenya: emerging ag pressure, women fill large farming roles
~ U.S. agricultural development assistance and food aid: programs and issues

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ GA Harris Research Instrumentation Fellowship
~ Plant Feedstock Genomics for Bioenergy
~ Solid Waste Management Grant
~ Water Resources Research National Competitive Grants Program
~ Agricultural Marketing Assistance Organic Certification Cost Share Program
~ K-12 Classroom Challenge Grants Program
~ Integrated NSF Support Promoting Interdisciplinary Research and Education
~ Major Research Instrumentation Program
~ Scientific Cooperation Research Program
~ Sustainable Landscapes, Clean Energy and Adaptation
~ California Science and Technology Policy fellowships

Conferences, Meetings and Reports

~ As drought expands, winter wheat growers lose hope
~ National Water Quality Monitoring Council's 6th ed of "National Water Monitoring News"
~ New issue of the USGS GeoHealth newsletter
~ ERS study on private investments in global R&D
~ USDA scientists and cooperators sequence the wheat genome
~ Not-so-permanent permafrost
~ Universities report highest-ever R&D spending of $65 billion in FY 2011
~ FY’13 exports forecast at a record $145 billion; imports at a record $115 Billion
~ Recent demographic trends in nonmetropolitan America
~ Scientific American's 1,000 scientists in 1,000 days

Congressional/Administration News

~ AC21 wants USDA to investigate crop insurance for genetic harm to organic crops
~ Senators push private investment in water programs
~ New chair for the Science, Space and Technology committee
~ Senate panel delays action on water bill until next year
~ Key lawmakers offer farm bill as a chit in fiscal cliff talks
~ Lucas, Goodlatte, Ryan elected chairmen

International Corner

(TOP) ~ Second attempt expected on science, tech visas

House Republicans will try again to win passage of a bill on high-tech worker visas, the first step in House Speaker John A. Boehner’s step-by-step approach to immigration legislation. The bill would abolish the diversity immigration program, which allocates 55,000 permanent residency visas by lottery, and redirect those visas to foreign graduates of American universities with doctorate or master’s degrees in science, technology, engineering and math, known as the STEM fields. Doctoral-degree holders would get priority and those with master’s degrees would get any visas that are left. That proposal has been under consideration for months and the latest bill includes a few changes designed to appeal to Democrats. The most significant would make it easier for spouses and children of green card holders to move to the United States while they wait for green cards of their own. Business groups have been lobbying for years to give more visas to high-tech workers and both parties support increasing the number of high-tech visas.

(TOP) ~ New chief for CSIRO land and water

Australia’s environmental research will be significantly boosted by the appointment of internationally renowned scientist and former SSSA president Professor Paul Bertsch as new Chief of CSIRO Land and Water. CSIRO Chief Executive Megan Clark said Professor Bertsch was chosen from an outstanding field of national and international science leaders. Professor Bertsch said he has long admired the Australian research enterprise and CSIRO, and looks forward to leading one of the Organization’s largest divisions with more than 500 staff based at nine laboratories around Australia. "The research activities in the Division of Land and Water are central to a sustainable future for Australia," Professor Bertsch said. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Global irrigated area at record levels, but expansion slowing

Worldwatch Institute has released a report which examines the expansion of irrigated areas worldwide and the impact of this expansion on natural aquifers. The report, written by Judith Renner, indicates that although the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)'s most recent data (2009) cites 311 million hectares in the world as equipped for irrigation, Worldwatch Institute research found only 84 percent of that area is actually being irrigated. As of 2010, the countries with the largest irrigated areas were India, China, and the United States. The irrigation sector claims about 70 percent of the freshwater withdrawals worldwide. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Kenya: emerging ag pressure, women fill large farming roles

Last year, a World Bank survey in Kenya suggested agriculture in the country is becoming a female-dominated occupation. The World Bank estimates that in some Kenyan communities, as many as 80% of the farmers are women. Across all of Africa, the percentage of women farmers is even higher. Some statistics say only 5% of land in the country is held by women, but official numbers don't exist. Under a new constitution ratified by voters in 2010, women can now own and inherit land, but local customs still curtail women from owning property. That means it can still be difficult for women to get loans for their farm operations. To get loans, many women farmers are increasingly working with cooperatives, which often function as co-signers on credit. Read full article

(TOP) ~ U.S. agricultural development assistance and food aid: programs and issues

Recent U.S. efforts to reform and expand food aid and international agricultural development assistance programs have made important strides, but both sets of programs face severe pressure under the effort to reduce the federal budget deficit.  This AGree background paper discusses current U.S. policy on providing financial and/or technical assistance to countries facing economic difficulties or natural disasters, summarizes different perspectives about the current system and suggests areas for change, including suggestions for better coordination of activities under both umbrellas to simultaneously improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the U.S. response to international hunger and poverty. See full report

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

(TOP) ~ GA Harris Research Instrumentation Fellowship

In memory of Dr. Grant A. Harris, professor of Forestry and Range Management and our first Chairman of the Board, Decagon Devices, Inc. is accepting proposals for the G.A. Harris Research Instrumentation Fellowship. With this fellowship, we commemorate Dr. Harris’s life-long interest in helping his many students find creative ways to access needed resources and opportunities. The G.A. Harris Research Instrumentation Fellowship provides of $30,000 worth of Decagon research instruments (6 awards for $5,000 each) to graduate students studying any aspect of environmental or geotechnical science. This year the committee will be emphasizing studies that propose innovative soil and plant monitoring. Research topics might include, but are not limited to: organic crops studies, geotechnical hazard studies and water balance studies. Deadline 18 Jan. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Plant Feedstock Genomics for Bioenergy

The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental
Research (BER), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Institute of Food
and Agriculture (NIFA), are interested in receiving applications for genomics based research that will lead to the improved use of biomass and plant feedstocks for the production of fuels such as ethanol or renewable chemical feedstocks. Specifically, applications are sought for fundamental research on plants that will improve biomass characteristics, biomass yield, or sustainability. Systems biology approaches to identify genetic indicators enabling plants to be efficiently bred or manipulated, or research to predict phenotype from underlying genotype that could lead to improved feedstock characterization and sustainability are also encouraged. Deadline 18 Dec. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Solid Waste Management Grant

USDA is seeking grant funding applications from private nonprofit organizations, public bodies, academic institutions, and others for projects to reduce or eliminate pollution of water resources in rural areas, and improve planning and management of solid waste sites in rural areas. Funds may be used to: evaluate current landfill conditions to determine threats to water resources in rural areas; provide technical assistance and/or training to enhance operator skills in the maintenance and operation of active landfills in rural areas; provide technical assistance and/or training to help associations reduce the solid waste stream; and provide technical assistance and/or training for operators of landfills in rural areas which are closed or will be closed in the near future with the development and implementation of closure plans, future land use plans, safety and maintenance planning, and closure scheduling within permit requirements. Deadline 31 Dec. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Water Resources Research National Competitive Grants Program

Section 104g of the Water Resources Research Act of 1984 requires that this competitive grant program focus on water problems and issues of a regional or interstate nature beyond those of concern only to a single State and which relate to specific program priorities identified jointly by the Secretary of the Interior and the water resources research institutes. Objectives include collaboration between the USGS and university scientists in research on significant national and regional water resources issues, promote the dissemination and application of the results of the research funded under this program, and assist in the training of scientists in relevant water resource fields. Deadline 7 Mar. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Agricultural Marketing Assistance Organic Certification Cost Share Program

This Notice invites the following eligible states: Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming, to submit an application for federal assistance and to enter into a cooperative agreement with the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) for the allocation of organic certification cost-share funds. The AMS has allocated $1.425 million for this organic certification cost-share program. Funds are available to 16 designated States to provide cost-share assistance to organic crop and livestock producers certified under the USDA Organic Standards that either receive organic certification or incur expenses for continued certification during the period of October 1, 2012 through September 30, 2013. Deadline 15 Dec. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ K-12 Classroom Challenge Grants Program

The Secondary Education, Two-Year Postsecondary Education, and Agriculture in the K-12 Classroom Challenge Grants (SPECA) program seeks to: (a) promote and strengthen secondary education and two-year postsecondary education in agriscience and agribusiness in order to help ensure the existence in the United States of a qualified workforce to serve the food and agricultural sciences system; and (b) promote complementary and synergistic linkages among secondary, two-year postsecondary, and higher education programs in the food and agricultural sciences in order to advance excellence in education and encourage more young Americans to pursue and complete a baccalaureate or higher degree in the food and agricultural sciences. Deadline 18 Jan. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Integrated NSF Support Promoting Interdisciplinary Research and Education

The INSPIRE awards program was established to address some of the most complicated and pressing scientific problems that lie at the intersection of traditional disciplines. It is intended to encourage investigators to submit bold, exceptional proposals that some may consider to be at a disadvantage in a standard NSF review process. INSPIRE is open to interdisciplinary proposals on any NSF-supported topic, submitted by invitation only after a preliminary inquiry process initiated by submission of a required Letter of Intent. These are prestigious individual awards to single-investigator proposals that present ideas for interdisciplinary advances with unusually strong, exciting transformative potential. Deadline 13 May. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Major Research Instrumentation Program

The Major Research Instrumentation Program (MRI) serves to increase access to shared scientific and engineering instruments for research and research training in our Nation's institutions of higher education, and not-for-profit museums, science centers and scientific/engineering research organizations. This program especially seeks to improve the quality and expand the scope of research and research training in science and engineering, by supporting proposals for shared instrumentation that fosters the integration of research and education in research-intensive learning environments. To accomplish the program's goals, the MRI program assists with the acquisition or development of a shared research instrument that is, in general, too costly and/or not appropriate for support through other NSF programs. Deadline 21 Feb. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Scientific Cooperation Research Program

The USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) announces the availability of funding through cost reimbursable agreements for the Scientific Cooperation Research Program (SCRP) for fiscal year 2013. The objective of SCRP is to reduce global poverty and hunger by supporting applied scientific research, extension, or education projects that aim to address challenges faced by smallholder farmers in emerging economies. All proposals should focus on addressing agricultural challenges to smallholders. All proposals should address one of the three focus areas: improving agricultural productivity, creating sustainable agricultural systems, or building regional or global trade capacities. Eligible countries: Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Haiti, Kenya, Mozambique, and Tanzania. Deadline 4 Jan. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Sustainable Landscapes, Clean Energy and Adaptation

USAID’s climate change program uses three pillars of funding: “Sustainable Landscapes” investments in land use practices that stop, slow, and reverse emissions from deforestation and degradation of forests and other landscapes; “Clean Energy” investments to establish a foundation for low carbon energy systems; and “Adaptation” to increase the resilience of people, places and livelihoods to a changing climate. This Addendum to the GDA APS seeks private sector partners that wish to collaborate with USAID on programs that realize these three pillars while pursuing their own business or philanthropic interests. Deadline 31 Jan. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ California Science and Technology Policy fellowships

The California Council on Science and Technology seeks PhD scientists and engineers to serve as Fellows to provide the California State Legislature with critical, unbiased scientific and technical advice. If you are looking for a professional development opportunity that enables you to incorporate science and technology into public policy, we encourage you to apply for a one-year fellowship. Applications for the 2013-2014 program will be accepted starting on December 1, 2012 and ending February 28, 2013. See full announcement

Conferences, Meetings and Reports

(TOP) ~ As drought expands, winter wheat growers lose hope

The continued intensity and expansion of the drought across the central United States is beginning to ravage the hard winter wheat crop. Kansas, one of the biggest hard winter wheat producers in the country alongside Texas and Oklahoma, is seeing its second-worst November for wheat in 28 years. Farmers in Kansas are seeing minimal growth of secondary roots, which help the plant survive through winter. Weeks ago, farmers were hoping for some rain before the crop becomes dormant in the winter months, and later is harvested in the spring or summer. In Texas, the stalks are stunted and their green color may soon turn yellow and in Oklahoma, some insurance claims have already been filed. This year's devastating drought has both intensified and expanded after two months of retreating, according to the recent U.S. Drought Monitor. The drought has worsened through the south-central United States, the Southeast and the Mississippi Delta. Groundwater reserves are also in dire need of a recharge after a long, dry summer, especially in the Southeast and the continued dryness is depleting irrigation storage. In the worst case, farmers can still rely on crop insurance, but there is still a small window to avert the complete loss.

(TOP) ~ National Water Quality Monitoring Council's 6th ed of "National Water Monitoring News"

This newsletter provides a forum of communication among water practitioners across the Nation. In support of the national Council’s mission, the newsletter is geared to foster partnerships and collaboration; advance water science; improve monitoring strategies; and enhance data integration, comparability, and reporting. This edition highlights many events, activities, and new products. Read the newsletter

(TOP) ~ New issue of the USGS GeoHealth newsletter

A new issue of the USGS GeoHealth Newsletter is now available. GeoHealth is the USGS environmental health science newsletter. Environmental Health is a new mission area within USGS. The newsletter describes a broad range of scientific information valuable to safeguarding the health of the environment, fish and wildlife, domesticated animals, and people. The newsletter is issued twice a year. Read the newsletter

(TOP) ~ ERS study on private investments in global R&D

An analysis published by the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) provides new details on the rapid growth and changing composition of private investments in global agricultural research and development (R&D) and traces the implications for agriculture. Agriculture is more dependent on scientific innovation than any other industry and this study shows the great job that private industry is doing in research. Most of the increase in agricultural production over the past 50 years can largely be attributed to rising crop and livestock yields rather than to the expansion of acreage devoted to farming. As private sector investments comprise a greater and growing share of overall R&D spending, the findings from this study will help trace their influence on future productivity gains. Growth in private R&D can also help to offset the sluggish growth in public R&D, though public research has provided many of the fundamental discoveries. The ERS study is the first of its kind to provide comprehensive estimates and analyses of private sector R&D for agricultural input industries, even for global companies with R&D endeavors in different countries and sectors.

(TOP) ~ USDA scientists and cooperators sequence the wheat genome

USDA scientists working as part of an international team have completed a "shotgun sequencing" of the wheat genome. The achievement is expected to increase wheat yields, help feed the world and speed up development of wheat varieties with enhanced nutritional value. Genetics provides us with important methods that not only increase yields, but also address the ever-changing threats agriculture faces from natural pests, crop diseases and changing climates. Grown on more land area than any other commercial crop, wheat is the world's most important staple food, and its improvement has vast implications for global food security. The work to complete the shotgun sequencing of the wheat genome will help to improve programs on breeding and adaptation in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa for wheat crops that could be drought tolerant and resistant to weeds, pests and diseases. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Not-so-permanent permafrost

As much as 44 billion tons of nitrogen and 850 billion tons of carbon stored in arctic permafrost, or frozen ground, could be released into the environment as the region begins to thaw over the next century as a result of a warmer planet according to a new study led by the U.S. Geological Survey. This nitrogen and carbon are likely to impact ecosystems, the atmosphere, and water resources including rivers and lakes. For context, this is roughly the amount of carbon stored in the atmosphere today. The previously unpublished nitrogen figure is useful for scientists who are making climate predictions with computer climate models, while the carbon estimate is consistent and gives more credence to other scientific studies with similar carbon estimates. See news release

(TOP) ~ Universities report highest-ever R&D spending of $65 billion in FY 2011

University spending on research and development in all fields continued to increase between FY 2010 and FY 2011, rising 6.3% to $65.1 billion, according to FY 2011 data from the National Science Foundation's Higher Education Research and Development Survey. Once again, funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) was responsible for much of the increase, with ARRA-funded expenditures totaling $4.2 billion in FY 2011. See full report

(TOP) ~ FY’13 exports forecast at a record $145 billion; imports at a record $115 Billion

USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) has released its latest quarterly report, which says that fiscal 2013 agricultural exports are forecast at a record $145 billion, up $1.5 billion from the August forecast and $9.2 billion above fiscal 2012 exports. Grain and feed exports are forecast down $1.9 billion mostly due to lower corn exports. Oilseed exports are up $3.3 billion on much higher volumes and record prices. Cotton exports are forecast down $200 million in part due to reduced Chinese demand. Horticultural exports are unchanged at a record $32 billion. The forecast for livestock, poultry and dairy is down $100 million on lower poultry, beef, and cattle exports. U.S. imports are projected at a record $115 billion in fiscal 2013, up 11 percent from 2012’s imports of $103.4 billion, but down $2 billion from the August forecast for 2013. The reduced forecast for 2013 is largely due to significantly lower prices for tropical oils, processed fruits and vegetables, sugar, coffee, rubber, and cocoa. See full report

(TOP) ~ Recent demographic trends in nonmetropolitan America

On the heels of an election which sparked a nationwide discussion about shifting demographics, this new paper released by AGree examines demographic trends in rural America and implications for rural communities and policymakers alike. Overall population growth in rural America slowed precipitously in the last decade, and much of the growth that is occurring is fueled by minorities as the nation becomes increasingly diverse. Policies to address the needs of rural America must take account of both the growing diversity and regional differences in trends. Some remote rural places, including traditional agricultural counties, are seeing deaths out number births, while other places are seeing retirement-driven growth or new, more diverse populations. See full report

(TOP) ~ Scientific American's 1,000 scientists in 1,000 days

1,000 Scientists in 1,000 Days is Scientific American's program to help scientists and educators connect. The intent is to match educators with scientists who want to volunteer, for instance, to visit the classroom to conduct a lab or talk about what it's like to be a scientist, explain the latest science, answer questions or act as a resource in other ways. How scientists and educators choose to collaborate is up to them. Scientific American has launched this program with its parent, Nature Publishing Group, as part of the Change the Equation Initiatives. Get more information

Congressional/Administration News

(TOP) ~ AC21 wants USDA to investigate crop insurance for genetic harm to organic crops

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC21) has released a report, which gained consensus among all but one of its members, to the Secretary of Agriculture. The report envisions crop coexistence among organic, conventional and genetically engineered (GE) crops, with farmers free to make their own choices about what to do on their land. The report contains five recommendations, with the most controversial being an insurance-based “compensation mechanism” that would be triggered if economic losses are suffered by an organic crop from a GM or even conventional crop. Other recommendations included: the need for a comprehensive education and outreach initiative on coexistence; working with stakeholders to address issues stemming from unintended gene flow between crop varieties; funding research relevant to coexistence; and working with seed suppliers to ensure a diverse and high quality commercial seed supply. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Senators push private investment in water programs

Senators writing a water resources authorization are proposing a pilot program that would promote private investment in municipal water and sewage systems. Senate Environment and Public Works member Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., has introduced legislation to create a system of loan guarantees, direct loans and other financial instruments to help states and municipalities partner with private investors on clean-water and sewage projects. The idea is based on the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program (TIFIA) which offers low-cost credit to states that stretch those dollars by leveraging them with private investment. Merkley said he wants to apply the TIFIA model to drinking water and sewage project financing. Leveraging greater private investment through the new program is seen by aides and lobbyists as a way to help meet the infrastructure investment needs at a time when government funding is tight. Groups including the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies and the American Water Works Association have expressed support for the proposed investment program.

(TOP) ~ New chair for the Science, Space and Technology committee

After a three-way contest, Texas Republican Lamar Smith will chair the House Science, Space and Technology Committee in the 113th Congress. Smith has said it’s important for NASA to have a unifying mission and he argues that for the United States to remain competitive, it needs to stay innovative and focused on “exploring science and expanding new technologies.” He also contends that despite the decades that have passed since man last went to the moon, “we should continue to shoot for the stars.” Encouraging children to study the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields can help future generations reach that goal, he says. The committee faces two major science policy items up for renewal in the 113th Congress. Expiring in 2013 are the authorizations of both NASA and the America COMPETES Act, which covers the National Science Foundation; a slate of research and development initiatives; and STEM education programs. Congress last reauthorized both measures in 2010.

(TOP) ~ Senate panel delays action on water bill until next year

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer said she and incoming ranking Republican David Vitter hope to move a water resources reauthorization bill out of the committee within the first month of the new Congress, ending any speculation that it could advance before the end of the year. Boxer said she will release a new draft proposal regarding response to extreme weather events. Democrats have written language to add to the draft water resources bill that would authorize evaluations of current natural disaster mitigation processes in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. Boxer said her new language would address several overlapping laws that can delay work on repairing infrastructure damage. “More frequent extreme weather events have become a reality as our climate continues to change,” she said. “We have to build infrastructure needed to protect our people, our communities and our economy.” The existing draft language on extreme weather does not call for any specific studies on climate change despite assertions that more frequent and stronger storms are occurring while the earth’s climate is changing.

(TOP) ~ Key lawmakers offer farm bill as a chit in fiscal cliff talks

Congressional agriculture leaders are urging the White House to include the farm bill in negotiations over the "fiscal cliff" as the clock ticks down on the lame-duck session. Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said that she's talked to both the administration and fellow senators about such a strategy and that she has the support of ranking member Pat Roberts (R-Kan.). There are more than $23 billion in cuts in the Senate-passed bill that Stabenow said could provide offsets in a deal to address the fiscal cliff. The fiscal cliff refers to the automatic spending cuts and the end of several tax incentives that will automatically occur in the new year in the absence of a budget deal. Stabenow also said she was open to using the farm bill to offset cuts to the Defense Department specifically. House and Senate leaders have met with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on the farm bill, though the legislation's future is still far from clear. House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) wouldn't rule out using his version of the bill in the fiscal cliff negotiations going on between the White House and congressional leaders.

(TOP) ~ Lucas, Goodlatte, Ryan elected chairmen

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., was re-elected chairman of the committee by the House Republican Caucus. “We advanced a strong, reform-minded, fiscally responsible farm bill that can save billions of dollars and provide certainty to our agricultural producers,” Lucas said. “This process is not complete, though I am confident that it’s just a matter of time.” The House Republican Caucus also elected former House Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. The caucus also granted House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., an exemption from its rules on length of chairmanships so that he could remain chairman of that committee. Ryan was the Republican vice presidential candidate.

Sources: AAAS; CSIRO; Congressional Quarterly; Decagon Devices; DOE, Office of Science Office of Biological and Environmental Research; Energy & Environment Daily; Food Industry Environmental Network, LLC; Meridian Institute; National Science Foundation

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.