Science Policy Report

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30 January 2013

In This Issue:

International Corner

~ On day one: ensuring food security
~ Think, Eat, Save: FAO, UNEP and partners launch global campaign on food waste
~ Tanzania and other East African countries brace for decrease in crops
~ Small farmers need research and investments to reduce climate impacts on food
~ World leaders praise Obama's nod to climate change during inauguration
~ New data show Amazon deforestation accelerating

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ National Science Foundation Grants Conference
~ Hydrologic Sciences
~ Graduate Student Measurement Science and Engineering Fellowship Program
~ OSTP Student Volunteer Program: Summer 2013
~ Cooperative Agreement Notice for NASA Internships
~ Small Business Innovation Research Program Phase II

Conferences, Meetings and Reports

~ Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Advisory Committee; notice of an open meeting
~ Climate Ready Estuaries releases 2012 progress report and related publications
~ Federal Budget Authority for R&D declines in FYs 2011 and 2012
~ Smithsonian plans big agriculture business exhibition
~ Marginal farmland a potential boon for ethanol crops, CO2 reduction
~ Warming could prevent soils from holding carbon
~ USDA studies confirm plant water demands shift with water availability
~ Federal Agencies release report on toxic contaminants in the Chesapeake Bay
~ The Organic Seed Grower: A Farmer's Guide to Vegetable Seed Production

Congressional/Administration News

~ Belief spreads in Washington that Congress will ignore sequester deadline
~ Salazar to leave agency by end of March
~ Farm bill's future tied to upcoming fiscal legislation
~ Farm bill a priority this year
~ House conservatives seek to drive 2013 spending down $73 billion
~ Debt limit suspension until May 19 proposed by House GOP

International Corner

(TOP) ~ On day one: ensuring food security

In this “Letter to the President,” Dan Glickman, former Secretary of Agriculture, highlights the remarkable progress made with the Feed the Future initiative, calling it neither charity nor good will, but an investment in our own future and our own national interests. Poverty and starvation, Glickman says, breed instability and unrest, making impoverished areas easy recruiting targets for Al Qaeda and others who wish to harm us. Innovative U.S. development efforts in food security can help revolutionize agriculture and end the cycle of famine. Helping the developing world has always been important to the U.S., but with the fastest rates of economic growth occurring in those countries, we cannot afford to not be engaged. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Think, Eat, Save: FAO, UNEP and partners launch global campaign on food waste

Simple actions by consumers and food retailers can dramatically cut the 1.3 billion tons of food lost or wasted each year and help shape a sustainable future, according to a new global campaign to cut food waste launched today by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Environment Program (UNEP), and partners. The ‘Think.Eat.Save’ Reduce Your Footprint' campaign specifically targets food wasted by consumers, retailers and the hospitality industry. It is in support of the [FAO] SAVE FOOD Initiative to reduce food loss and waste along the entire chain of food production and consumption. The campaign website provides tips to consumers and retailers, will allow users to make food waste pledges, and provides a platform for those running campaigns to exchange ideas and create a truly global culture of sustainable consumption of food. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Tanzania and other East African countries brace for decrease in crops

New research shows climate change will have a devastating effect on crops in southern and eastern Africa, decreasing production by 30 percent over the next two decades. Corn will be one of the main crops affected, said Tanzania's assistant director of environment for the vice president, Richard Muyungi, citing changes in the rainy season, droughts, floods and diseases brought on by climate change as the culprits. Tanzania's northwest and coastal regions used to have two rainy seasons, but now there is only one, Muyungi said. Smallholder farmers have difficulty adjusting to these changes. "Rains are now unpredictable. We don't know when it could start and when it would end; as a result, we don't know the specific time when we can do farming," he said. Muyungi advised the Tanzanian government to improve irrigation technology and access to small farmers but is worried that farmers will have to use expensive genetically modified crops with uncertain results.

(TOP) ~ Small farmers need research and investments to reduce climate impacts on food

Individual farmers are by far the top investors in agriculture in developing countries, according to a new report from the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, but the decisions they make don't necessarily contribute to the greater good. Speakers at the launch of FAO's 2012 report said governments should focus on making smart investments to help smallholder farmers increase productivity. Public sector support for irrigation systems, roads, education, and especially research and development makes a big difference in a nation's food security. According to the report, hunger is a far greater problem in regions where public spending on agriculture is lacking, as in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. But policymakers can help or hinder agricultural markets. Subsidies on resources like credit, power and fertilizer have unreliable results, said Tewodaj Mogues, a researcher with the International Food Policy Research Institute. Research and development, however, had a huge impact on agricultural performance and poverty reduction. "Agriculture research and development has by far outpaced other investments in leading to greater agricultural productivity," Mogues said. She pointed to a study of China, India, Thailand and Uganda that showed research and development investments produced far greater rates of return to public spending than investments in education, electricity or roads.

(TOP) ~ World leaders praise Obama's nod to climate change during inauguration

President Obama's mention of climate change was lauded by international environmental advocates and leaders. They hope America will take a stronger stance on the issue. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, whose country has faced heat waves and wildfires over the past month, responded, "We have got work to do on climate change, and President Obama was very forthright about the need to tackle climate change." E.U. Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said, "Great strong words on climate. ... The US President could not commit stronger to delivering now."  Environmental leaders hope Obama's words will result in more decisive action. When he first entered office, the president promised to do more, but his 2009 attempt to cut emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 was blocked by the Senate. "It really changes the nature, style and substance of the U.S. engagement with the international climate negotiations," said Bill Hare, a scientist with Climate Analytics in Berlin. Hare hopes the U.S. government's weak response to climate change during Obama's first term will change, leading the way for China, India and Russia, the other top greenhouse-gas-emitting nations.

(TOP) ~ New data show Amazon deforestation accelerating

Recent satellite data suggest deforestation is on the rise again in Brazil after a few years of slowing down on steep fines. After commodity prices soared in 2007, prompting a rush for cropland, the Brazilian government induced steep fines for actions leading to deforestation. Those fines resulted in slowed deforestation for the past few years. Farmers, loggers, miners and builders appear to be increasingly active in Brazil. Satellite imagery showed the destruction of the Amazon rainforest has climbed for four consecutive months, a Brazilian research institution said. In the last five months, the group detected clearings of 497 square miles of forest. Researchers say more data are needed to confirm the deforestation increase.

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

(TOP) ~ National Science Foundation Grants Conference

The second National Science Foundation Grants Conference of fiscal year 2013, will be hosted by Howard University on March 11-12, 2013. Key officials representing each NSF program directorate, administrative office, the NSF Office of International Science & Engineering, Office of General Counsel, and Office of the Inspector General will participate in this two-day conference.  The conference is considered a must, particularly for new faculty, researchers, educators and administrators who want to gain insight into a wide range of important and timely issues at NSF including: the state of current funding; the proposal and award process; and current and recently updated policies and procedures. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Hydrologic Sciences

The Hydrologic Sciences Program focuses on the fluxes of water in the environment that constitute the water cycle as well as the mass and energy transport function of the water cycle in the environment. The Program supports studying processes from rainfall to runoff to infiltration and streamflow; evaporation and transpiration; as well as the flow of water in soils and aquifers and the transport of suspended, dissolved and colloidal components. The Hydrologic Sciences Program retains a strong focus on linking the fluxes of water and the components carried by water across the boundaries between various interacting components of the terrestrial system and the mechanisms by which these fluxes co-organize over a variety of timescales and/or alter the fundamentals of the interacting components. The Program is also interested in how water interacts with the solid phase, the landscape and the ecosystem as well as how such interactions and couplings are altered by land use and climate change. Studies may address aqueous geochemistry and solid phase interactions as well as physical, chemical, and biological processes as coupled to water transport. These studies commonly involve expertise from basic sciences and mathematics, and proposals may require joint review with related programs. Deadline 3 Jun. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Graduate Student Measurement Science and Engineering Fellowship Program

NIST is soliciting proposals from eligible applicants for a Graduate Student Measurement Science and Engineering (GMSE) Fellowship Program that will provide doctoral-level graduate students with opportunities and financial assistance to obtain laboratory experiences within the NIST laboratories in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. The recipient will work with NIST to foster collaborative research relationships among NIST, doctoral-level graduate students and the students’ academic institutions in STEM. Deadline 15 Feb. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ OSTP Student Volunteer Program: Summer 2013

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is currently accepting applications for its Summer 2013 Student Volunteer Program.  The Office of Science and Technology Policy advises the President on the effects of science and technology on domestic and international affairs. The office serves as a source of scientific and technological analysis and judgment for the President with respect to major policies, plans and programs of the Federal Government. Student Volunteers are accepted for one of three annual terms, which each last no more than 90 days. While these positions are without compensation, the assignments provide educational enrichment, practical work experience, and network opportunities with other individuals in the science and technology policy arena. Deadline 22 Feb. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Cooperative Agreement Notice for NASA Internships

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Headquarters Office of Education, in cooperation with the NASA Johnson Space Center and other NASA Centers, is releasing a Cooperative Agreement Notice (CAN) for NASA Internships. Institutions eligible to respond to this CAN are limited to higher education institutions, nonprofit organizations, and consortia or groups of organizations and institutions serving higher education students, whose mission includes capturing student interest and/or improving student performance in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) or related fields. NASA is looking for a flexible and scalable partner who can be innovative and impactful while delivering, sustainable, demonstrable and measureable results. Deadline 13 Mar. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Small Business Innovation Research Program Phase II

Funds may be awarded up to $450,000 for Phase II projects. All Phase II projects must have previously completed a successful USDA Phase I project before applying for a Phase II grant. Success rates for applicants have been 50-60% for Phase II. Projects dealing with agriculturally related manufacturing and alternative and renewable energy technologies are encouraged across all 2013 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 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 28 Feb. Read full announcement

Conferences, Meetings and Reports

(TOP) ~ Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Advisory Committee; notice of an open meeting

The Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Advisory Committee (RE&EEAC) of the Department of Commerce has scheduled a public meeting for February 20, 2013 in Washington, DC. This inaugural meeting of the RE&EEAC under its second charter will consist of introductions, the selection by the members of a potential Chair and Vice Chair, and a discussion of the creation of appropriate subcommittees to facilitate the development of recommendations. Additionally, the RE&EEAC will discuss ideas for improving the competitiveness of U.S. renewable energy and energy efficiency exporters in foreign markets. Get more information

(TOP) ~ Climate Ready Estuaries releases 2012 progress report and related publications

EPA has released its Climate Ready Estuaries 2012 Progress Report, Lessons Learned from the Climate Ready Estuaries Program: New England Climate Ready Estuaries, and Climate Change Risk Management: CRE Adaptation Projects and the Risk Management Process. The progress report describes program accomplishments and the new National Estuary Program projects started during 2012, with 2008-2011 project information to show how climate change adaptation will help to meet clean water goals. The lessons learned document highlights the results and "lessons learned" from the nine Climate Ready Estuaries projects in New England while the risk management publication examines how Climate Ready Estuary projects illustrate and support using the risk management paradigm for climate change adaptation. See full report

(TOP) ~ Federal Budget Authority for R&D declines in FYs 2011 and 2012

Federal budget authority for research and development and R&D plant together totaled $140.6 billion (current dollars) in FY 2012. This is somewhat lower than the total of $144.4 billion in FY 2011 and even further below the $149.0 billion in FY 2010. Most of the drop in funding in these years resulted from reduced budget authority for defense-related R&D. For FY 2013, the total budget authority for R&D activity proposed by the President last year would rise somewhat to $142.2 billion. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Smithsonian plans big agriculture business exhibition

The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History announced that it is planning a major exhibition on the development of American agriculture as a business, and that the American Farm Bureau Federation is helping build a collection of stories, photographs and ephemera to be used in the exhibit. “American Enterprise,” as the exhibit will be known, is scheduled to open in 2015. “American agriculture has gone through a tremendous transformation in the last seven decades, becoming a high-tech industry, deeply affecting not just farmers themselves but every American and the American experience in general,” said Peter Liebhold, museum curator and chair of the museum’s Division of Work and Industry. “American Enterprise” will tell the story of the nation’s business, centering on themes of opportunity, innovation, competition and common good with examples drawn from five areas. Get more information

(TOP) ~ Marginal farmland a potential boon for ethanol crops, CO2 reduction

Marginal Midwestern farmland (tracts not used for food crops) can produce enough biofuels to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide spewed annually by about 10 million mid-sized cars, according to new research. While the notion of using marginal lands for biofuel production is several years old, the study published in the current issue of Nature is the first to quantify the biofuel potential and possible emission benefits of marginal lands. The study used 20 years of data from 10 states. The results showed all systems were net sinks of greenhouse gases when the emissions avoided from producing fossil fuel were taken into account. Grasses and other vegetation in both the unfertilized and fertilized abandoned fields absorbed substantially more CO2 than the other systems. Using marginal lands for biofuel production, the study says, would not interfere with food-cropping systems or have any indirect land-use effects.

(TOP) ~ Warming could prevent soils from holding carbon

Warming temperatures may hasten the rate of carbon emissions from soils, a new study has found, especially in the short term. A study published in Nature Climate Change finds that warmer soil could make microorganisms less efficient in processing carbon into the ground. "They're absolutely critical," Serita Frey, lead author of the study and a professor of soil microbial ecology at the University of New Hampshire, said of soil microorganisms. "They're a completely overlooked component of being a producer of gases emitted in soils.” Microorganisms, like bacteria and certain fungi, drive the exchange of carbon between soil and atmosphere by "digesting" carbon from fallen leaves, decaying wood and roots and fixing it into in the soil. This helps prevent the carbon from escaping into the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas and accelerating climate change. If microorganisms, mostly bacteria and fungi, are less efficient in decomposing material, less of the carbon will be left in the soils and more of it will escape into the atmosphere. Soils emit a massive amount of carbon as it is, 60 billion to 70 billion metric tons per year according to Frey, but almost all of it is reabsorbed by plants. However, a rise in temperature could disrupt this balance.

(TOP) ~ USDA studies confirm plant water demands shift with water availability

Plants can adapt to extreme shifts in water availability, such as drought and flooding, but their ability to withstand these extreme patterns will be tested by future climate change, according to a study by USDA scientists and their cooperators. The study was published in Nature by a team of Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists. ARS is USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency, and this research supports the USDA priority of responding to climate change. In the United States, much of our agricultural productivity has depended on long-term precipitation regimes. But those patterns are changing and we need information for managing the effects of those shifts. The researchers conducted their investigation using measurements made during 2000-2009 at 29 sites in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Australia. This provided data about precipitation patterns in environments ranging from grasslands to forests. The team compared these data with measurements taken from 1975 to 1998 at 14 sites in North America, Central America, and South America. Their results suggest that ecosystem resilience will decline as regions are subjected to continuing warming and drying trends. They project that this downturn will begin in grassland biomes because these plant communities are particularly sensitive to the hot and dry conditions of prolonged warm droughts.

(TOP) ~ Federal Agencies release report on toxic contaminants in the Chesapeake Bay

A final report is available that summarizes existing information on the extent and severity of the occurrence of toxic contaminants in the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed. The report also identifies research and monitoring gaps that could be considered to improve the understanding of the extent and severity of toxic contaminant occurrence. Findings in this report will be used during 2013 by the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership to consider whether to adopt new goals for reducing inputs of toxic contaminants entering the Bay and watershed. Strategies for achieving any established goals will be developed by 2015. See full report

(TOP) ~ The Organic Seed Grower: A Farmer's Guide to Vegetable Seed Production

The Organic Seed Grower is a comprehensive manual for the serious vegetable grower who is interested in growing high-quality seeds using organic farming practices. It is written for both serious home seed savers and diversified small-scale farmers who want to learn the necessary steps involved in successfully producing a commercial seed crop organically. Detailed profiles for each of the major vegetables provide users with practical, in-depth knowledge about growing, harvesting, and processing seed for a wide range of common and specialty vegetable crops, from Asian greens to zucchini. Funded by Northeast SARE, the book was produced in a unique partnership with Chelsea Green Publishing and is now available for a limited time. Get more information

Congressional/Administration News

(TOP) ~ Belief spreads in Washington that Congress will ignore sequester deadline

Barely more than a month before billions of dollars in automatic, across-the-board reductions in federal spending start taking effect, there’s a growing belief across Washington that the March 1 deadline will pass without action by Congress to stave off the sequester. That’s in part because many lawmakers are looking toward the expiration a few weeks later of the continuing resolution funding government operations this fiscal year, which they believe will bring a new opportunity to address spending. But it’s also because the impact of the automatic cutbacks has been eased since the original cuts that were to take effect on Jan. 2 were modified by the fiscal-cliff law. Patrick Lester, federal fiscal policy director at Center for Effective Government, said the diminished urgency reflects the new political dynamics in Congress since the fiscal-cliff deal was passed at the start of the year. Based on estimates at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, non-defense discretionary accounts would be trimmed by 5.1 percent, compared to 8.2 percent under the original sequestration. Defense accounts would be cut by 7.3 percent, compared to 9.4 percent before the fiscal cliff law. Overall discretionary spending would be reduced by $69 billion and mandatory spending by $16 billion. Administration officials have not said whether they would use apportionment to delay the spending cuts or take other actions to blunt the immediate impact of the sequestration.

(TOP) ~ Salazar to leave agency by end of March

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar plans to leave the agency at the end of March to return to his family in his home state of Colorado, ending just over four years of service. The departure of Salazar, will create another gaping hole in President Obama's second-term Cabinet and could potentially set up a bruising confirmation process. U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has indicated she plans to leave the Cabinet in the next few weeks, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu is widely expected to also leave the administration. In his four years at Interior, Salazar led a massive overhaul of the scandal-plagued Minerals Management Service in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico; introduced sweeping plans to expand solar energy in the Southwest and offshore wind in the Atlantic Ocean; and established comprehensive oil and gas leasing reforms on millions of acres of Western public lands. Salazar also received the Soil Science Society of America’s “2008 Excellence in Soil Stewardship Award,” while he was a Senator from Colorado.

(TOP) ~ Farm bill's future tied to upcoming fiscal legislation

A new farm bill likely won't be marked up until after Congress deals with a host of fiscal and budget related issues. Those include averting across-the-board spending cuts set to take place at the end of February, passing legislation to keep the government funded through the rest of the year and dealing with the debt ceiling. Last year, a version of the bill languished in the House for several months after GOP leaders refused to bring it to a vote. The fiscal cliff deal signed into law at the beginning of this year provided a partial nine-month extension of 2008 legislation, forcing the House and Senate Agriculture committees to begin work this year on a new bill. The delay in marking up and passing a farm bill could have devastating consequences. If work begins after the Congressional Budget Office releases its yearly estimates of what the bill costs, expected in March, the Agriculture committees will likely be dealing with less money from which to base a new bill. More potentially damaging, would be if Congress or the White House digs into direct payments to look for savings for any of the fiscal-related legislation coming down the pipeline. If direct payments are eliminated before a new farm bill is written, that money wouldn't be available to offset the continuation of other programs in the bill, including energy, conservation, organic and other smaller programs.

(TOP) ~ Farm bill a priority this year

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV, D) has filed last year's Senate-passed version of the farm bill, one of several pieces of legislation he called a high priority in the new Congress. The measure will serve as a placeholder bill until the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee prepares and approves an updated version. The farm bill was among several measures Reid said he plans to act on this year that "unfortunately" did not pass the House in 2012. "Each of these initiatives passed the Senate on a bipartisan basis after deliberation and debate during the 112th Congress, but was left to languish by the House of Representatives," Reid said in a speech on the Senate floor today, naming the farm bill, the Violence Against Women Act, U.S. Postal Service reforms and Superstorm Sandy aid. In the farm bill's case, House leaders did not bring a version of the bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee in July to a floor vote. Instead, an extension was passed as part of the "fiscal cliff" deal early this year, a partial nine-month measure that agricultural, conservation and energy groups have criticized. House agricultural leaders said it would likely be a few months before they mark up a new farm bill because of a host of fiscal- and budget-related legislation that Congress must deal with first.

(TOP) ~ House conservatives seek to drive 2013 spending down $73 billion

House GOP leaders are hoping to build support for a short-term extension of the government’s borrowing authority by saying that they will stand firm on a plan to cut $73 billion in federal spending in the coming months. The plan, which would reduce the current $1.047 trillion level for discretionary spending for the current fiscal year, would set up an immediate showdown with Democrats just as Congress is facing several fiscal deadlines in February and March. The House will vote on a measure that would temporarily extend the debt limit until May 19, a measure that seeks no significant concessions from Democrats in return. House conservatives have been wary of the plan but say they can support a strategy by SpeakerJohn A. Boehner to gain spending reductions tied to the March 27 expiration of the continuing resolution. That measure, which funds government operations, is running out as some $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts under sequester are due to begin taking effect March 1. Boehner told Republicans at a caucus meeting that GOP leadership would fight to restrain federal spending, seeking to either keep the current plans for a $974 billion target level for fiscal 2013 discretionary spending or gain significant cuts in other areas, such as entitlement reform.

(TOP) ~ Debt limit suspension until May 19 proposed by House GOP

House Republicans unveiled their proposal to postpone a fight over increasing the debt limit by suspending it until May 19, as both parties laid the groundwork behind the scenes on Inauguration Day for a coming battle over budget priorities. The measure scheduled for House floor action would suspend the debt limit through May 18, and then provide for an automatic increase in the current $16.4 trillion limit to match the amount of the government’s outstanding debt plus new obligations “to fund a commitment incurred by the federal government that required payment before May 19.” The legislation would also suspend the payment of salaries to lawmakers in either chamber that does not adopt a fiscal 2014 budget resolution by April 15, as required by the 1974 budget law. The salaries would be held in escrow until a budget resolution is adopted, or until the 113th Congress ends on Jan. 3, 2015. GOP aides confirmed Monday that the “no budget, no pay” language would not require the two chambers to agree on a common budget conference report after they adopt their own version. House Republicans portrayed the legislation as a prod to persuade Senate Democrats to move a budget resolution, and expressed hope it would revive the budget process timeline under the 1974 budget law.

Sources: Agricultural Research Service; Climatewire; Congressional Quarterly; Energy and Environment Daily; Environmental Protection Agency; Food and Agriculture Organization; Food Industry Environmental Network, LLC; Greenwire; The Hagstrom Report; Meridian Institute; National Science Foundation; Office of Science and Technology Policy; Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education

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.

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