Science Policy Report

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05 June 2013

In This Issue:

International Corner

~ USAID water strategy
~ Effort launched to develop heat and salt tolerant wheat and rice
~ Food company and farmers union back changes to aid program
~ Majority of earth’s population faces water shortages by mid-century
~ Remarks by Administrator Rajiv Shah
~ World Bank prepares road map to end world energy poverty
~ Cassava's huge potential as 21st Century crop; FAO offers sustainable farming model
~ Leaping & learning: linking smallholders to markets in Africa

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ San Francisco Bay Area Water Quality Improvement Fund
~ Expert IPM Decision Support System
~ Farm Business Management and Benchmarking
~ Conservation Innovation Grant – Missouri
~ Fiscal Year 2014 National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program
~ Regional Agricultural Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Grants
~ FY13 Region 2 Wetland Program Development Grants
~ 2014-2015 Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program

Conferences, Meetings and Reports

~ Assessment shows geographic distributions and trends of pesticide use, 1992-2009
~ Organic 101: can GMOs be used in organic products?
~ Landsat 8 is up and ready to take more detailed pictures
~ Deficit in nation’s aquifers accelerating
~ U.S. bioenergy statistics
~ Thawing tundra soils could produce lower CO2 emissions than previously thought
~ Obama admin aims to improve efficiency, adapt to climate change by releasing data
~ Agricultural innovation to protect the environment
~ Two USDA agencies can enhance safeguards against project duplication

Congressional/Administration News

~ White House wants another 5% shaved off 2015 budgets
~ ASA, CSSA, and SSSA sign onto CNSF merit review letter
~ FY13 budget and related ERS actions
~ Nomination of Regina McCarthy to serve as EPA administrator
~ Senate confirms Moniz as Energy secretary
~ National Academies of Sciences Public Access hearing

International Corner

(TOP) ~ USAID water strategy

USAID has released its new Water Strategy. As noted in the report, “projections are that by 2025, two thirds of the world’s population could be living in severe water stress conditions. This stress adversely affects individuals, communities, economies, and ecosystems around the world, especially in developing countries. Ensuring the availability of safe water to sustain natural systems and human life is integral to the success of the development objectives, foreign policy goals, and national security interests of the United States.” Read full report

(TOP) ~ Effort launched to develop heat and salt tolerant wheat and rice

Feed the Future, a billion-dollar endeavor to ensure food security abroad, will help finance an effort to develop drought- and salinity-tolerant varieties of rice and wheat. The U.S. Agency for International Development, which funds the Feed the Future initiative, announced that it would support a public-private partnership between the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics and Vibha Agrotech Ltd., a seed company based in Hyderabad, India. The cooperative agreement is part of an $18.3 million package to develop cereal crops that can withstand climate change. The five-year award will combine the Australian center's ongoing research on stresses on grain production with Vibha's land resources to develop wheat and rice varieties resistant to drought and saltwater intrusion. Work will begin in Australia and India and will later be deployed to developing countries around the world. Once farmers are assured of more resilient grain crops (the staple in most diets around the world) they will have the ability to shift resources to other crops, like legumes and vegetables.

(TOP) ~ Food company and farmers union back changes to aid program

One of the world’s largest food companies offered its support for changes to the way the United States provides food aid to developing countries, adding critical agribusiness backing for President Obama’s plans to overhaul the program. While not explicitly endorsing the proposals advocated by Mr. Obama, which include buying some food from local producers rather than from farmers in the United States, Cargill, based in Minnesota, said that changes needed to be made to the program because conditions have evolved since it was created in 1954. Not the least of those changes is that there are now more than 870 million people worldwide who lack sufficient food. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Majority of earth’s population faces water shortages by mid-century

A conference of 500 of the world’s leading water scientists issued a stark declaration at the end of a four-day meeting in Germany, warning that within two generations a majority of the people on the planet will face problems obtaining ample supplies of clean water. At the meeting, “Water in the Anthropocene,” the scientists said that the of over-pumping of underground aquifers, soaring populations, pollution, the over-use of fertilizers, and climate change are seriously threatening supplies of freshwater around much of the globe. Continuing on the current path will mean that most of Earth’s population “will be living under the handicap of severe water pressure,” the scientists said, adding, “This handicap will be self-inflicted and is, we believe, entirely avoidable.” The conference proposed a wide range of solutions, including better study and monitoring of water supplies, basic reform in irrigation and agriculture, and innovation in the institutions that set national and global water policy. Get more information

(TOP) ~ Remarks by Administrator Rajiv Shah

At the end of the day, we’re really talking about a very simple concept. Every farmer has great seeds. Every farming community is connected to a market. And every child has the nutrition they need to grow and thrive. This is the path that President Obama set forth in the State of the Union Address earlier this year, when he called upon us to join the world in ending extreme poverty in the next two decades. Today, we are taking up that call with focus and passion, scaling our impact with a new emphasis on science and business is quietly and powerfully changing the face of poverty and hunger around the world. Read full article


(TOP) ~ World Bank prepares road map to end world energy poverty

The United States and China hold the key to shifting the world's renewable energy development into high gear, a sweeping new World Bank study finds. Meanwhile, delivering electricity and clean cooking alternatives in 20 key countries could solve two-thirds of the world's energy deficit. The study, released at the Vienna Energy Forum, argues that together, these "fast moving" countries could account for most of the success or failure of the United Nations' top energy goals: achieving universal energy access by 2030, doubling the global share of renewable energy, and doubling the rate of improvement in global energy efficiency. In particular, it notes, the 20 economies with the highest energy demand (led by China, the United States, Russia and India) must take the lead in deploying low-carbon energy. "If they make progress, we can achieve the objectives globally. But if they don't, however well the rest of the world does, it's simply not going to be enough to shift the overall global trajectory. We really need to focus on countries where the difference is to be made," said Vivien Foster, the World Bank's energy sector manager and lead author of the report.

(TOP) ~ Cassava's huge potential as 21st Century crop; FAO offers sustainable farming model

cassava"Save and Grow", A Sustainable Farming Model to Increase Global Cassava Yields, has been released by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) which states that this approach achieves higher yields with improved soil health rather than with the heavy use of chemical inputs. Save and Grow minimizes soil disturbance caused by conventional tillage such as ploughing, and recommends maintaining a protective cover of vegetation over soil. Instead of the monocropping normally seen in intensive farming systems, Save and Grow encourages mixed cropping and crops rotation, and predicates integrated pest management, which uses disease-free planting material and pests' natural enemies to keep harmful insects down, instead of chemical pesticides Read full news release

(TOP) ~ Leaping & learning: linking smallholders to markets in Africa

The “Leaping and Learning: Taking Agricultural Successes to Scale” project, which is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), works to provide development partners with access to independent, evidence-based recommendations that work toward scaling up smallholder agricultural development in sub-Saharan Africa to ensure food and nutrition security and poverty reduction. The project has released two new reports on linking African smallholder farmers to markets. See the reports

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

(TOP) ~ San Francisco Bay Area Water Quality Improvement Fund

epa logoThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 9 (EPA) is soliciting initial proposals under this announcement from eligible entities to protect and restore the water quality of the San Francisco Bay and its watersheds. The initial proposals will be short submissions describing a project’s scope and environmental results and will be evaluated to determine whether a full proposal will be requested of the applicant. This announcement seeks proposals to achieve significant water quality results, such as the restoration of impaired waters and the enhancement of aquatic habitat. Deadline 9 Jul. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Expert IPM Decision Support System

The purpose of the EIPMDSS program is to support development of expert systems that help guide, demonstrate and multiply impacts of USDA supported IPM programs. The goals of these IPM programs are: 1) Improve cost benefit analyses when adopting IPM practices, 2) Reduce potential human health risks from pests and related management strategies, and 3) Minimize adverse environmental effects from pests and related management strategies. Both the efficiency and effectiveness of these individual programs have historically been increased by the expert systems made available to the participants. Deadline 16 Jul. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Farm Business Management and Benchmarking

The Farm Business Management and Benchmarking (FBMB) Competitive Grants Program provides funds to (1) improve the farm management knowledge and skills of agricultural producers; and (2) establish and maintain a national, publicly available farm financial management database to support improved farm management. Deadline 7 Jun. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Conservation Innovation Grant – Missouri

The purpose of CIG is to stimulate the development and adoption of innovative conservation approaches and technologies, while leveraging the Federal investment in environmental enhancement and protection in conjunction with agricultural production. CIG projects are expected to lead to the transfer of conservation technologies, management systems, and innovative approaches into NRCS policy, technical manuals, guides, and references, or to the private sector. Deadline 13 Jun. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Fiscal Year 2014 National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program

The Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act established the National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program (NCWCGP) to acquire, restore, and enhance wetlands in coastal States through competitive matching grants to State agencies. The primary goal of the NCWCGP is the long term conservation of coastal wetland ecosystems. In FY 2013, the NCWCGP will fund 24 to 26 individual projects encompassing 4,690 to 5,500 acres of coastal habitat. Deadline 28 Jun. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Regional Agricultural Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Grants

EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP), in coordination with the EPA Regional Offices, announces the availability of approximately $506,000 for FY13 to further, through research, development, monitoring, public education, training, demonstrations, or studies, the adoption of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approaches to reduce pesticide risk in production agriculture settings in the United States. IPM is a sustainable approach to managing pests by combining biological, cultural, physical, and chemical tools in a way that minimizes economic, health, and environmental risks. Deadline 1 Jul. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ FY13 Region 2 Wetland Program Development Grants

The goals of the EPA’s wetland program include increasing the quantity and quality of wetlands in the U.S. by conserving and restoring wetland acreage and improving wetland condition. In pursuing these goals, the EPA seeks to build the capacity of all levels of government to develop and refine effective, comprehensive programs for wetland protection and management. WPDGs provide states, tribes, local governments, interstate agencies, and intertribal consortia (hereafter referred to as applicants or recipients) an opportunity to carry out projects to develop and refine comprehensive state/tribal/local government wetland programs. Deadline 8 Jul. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ 2014-2015 Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program

The Fulbright Scholar Program offers teaching, research, or combination teaching/research awards in over 125 countries for the 2014-2015 academic year. Opportunities are available for college and university faculty and administrators as well as for professionals, artists, journalists, scientists, lawyers, independent scholars and many others. This year, there are nearly 100 awards available in science and technology fields. Deadline 1 Aug. Read full announcement

Conferences, Meetings and Reports

(TOP) ~ Assessment shows geographic distributions and trends of pesticide use, 1992-2009

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has developed maps and supporting national database of county-level use estimates for each of 459 pesticides for use in national and regional water-quality assessments. The national use analysis is based on methods developed by USGS to estimate annual county-level pesticide use for agricultural crops grown throughout the conterminous United States. Pesticide-use data compiled from proprietary surveys of farm operations were used in conjunction with annual harvested-crop acreage reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to calculate use rates for each crop and year. Read the assessment

(TOP) ~ Organic 101: can GMOs be used in organic products?

The use of genetic engineering, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs), is prohibited in organic products. This means an organic farmer can’t plant GMO seeds, an organic cow can’t eat GMO alfalfa or corn, and an organic soup producer can’t use any GMO ingredients. To meet the USDA organic regulations, farmers and processors must show they aren’t using GMOs and that they are protecting their products from contact with prohibited substances, such as GMOs, from farm to table. Read the blog post

(TOP) ~ Landsat 8 is up and ready to take more detailed pictures

landsat 8As NASA gets ready to hand control of Landsat 8 to the U.S. Geological Survey, following its launch in February, Landsat officials had some news to share: Landsat 8 is in orbit. Landsat 8 (the latest satellite in the 40-year-long Landsat program) is undergoing its post-launch checkup by NASA before it officially begins its mission May 30, under the control of USGS. Like its predecessors, Landsat 8 will collect data on the planet's surface in the form of digital pixels. But the new satellite is expected to produce more exact images of the global land surface. What's more, because Landsat 8 will be taking pictures alongside still-orbiting Landsat 7, both satellites have been timed so that the images will "refresh" every eight days instead of every 16 days. Better images are essential to the purpose the program serves. Since its start in 1972, the program has provided a decades-long record of the changing landscapes of the world, with many useful applications. Landsat data has been used to measure soil moisture levels, crop health and yield, aquifer depletion, tree mortality, changes in coastal regions, and urban development. It also creates a chronological series of images that allows these changes over time to be analyzed. The USDA has used Landsat data to verify crop insurance claims, the data is applicable in drought monitoring, and many companies use the data to analyze climate and weather-related risks.

(TOP) ~ Deficit in nation’s aquifers accelerating

Groundwater depletion across the United States has increased markedly since about 1950, with the maximum rates having occurred during 2000–2008, when the depletion rate averaged almost 25 cubic kilometers per year, according to a report released by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). It notes that for comparison, 9.2 cubic kilometers per year is the historical average calculated over the 1900–2008 timespan of the study. USGS states that since 1950, the use of groundwater resources for agricultural, industrial, and municipal purposes has greatly expanded in the United States. When groundwater is withdrawn from subsurface storage faster than it is recharged by precipitation or other water sources, the result is groundwater depletion. The depletion of groundwater has many negative consequences, including land subsidence, reduced well yields, and diminished spring and stream flows. Read full report

(TOP) ~ U.S. bioenergy statistics

The USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) has released its latest data set which provides a source of information on biofuels intended to present a picture of the renewable energy industry and its relationship to agriculture. ERS analysts track U.S. ethanol and biodiesel production, consumption, and trade. They also monitor and analyze U.S. bioenergy policy and events that affect the domestic and international biofuel and feedstock markets. See the dataset

(TOP) ~ Thawing tundra soils could produce lower CO2 emissions than previously thought

Researchers have uncovered a mechanism in the Alaskan tundra that doesn't seem to follow the climate change script for soil carbon. For years, scientists have shown that rising temperatures stimulate microbes that decay plant matter, releasing carbon more quickly into the atmosphere. But when Seeta Sistla, a doctoral student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, came to collect data for a 20-year-old experiment at the U.S. Arctic Long-Term Ecological Research site in northern Alaska, the soil carbon levels at the site were curiously stable. While climate change is warming the soil and spurring microorganisms to decompose leaves, (which releases carbon into the air) the growth of more shrubbery in the tundra is soaking up that carbon and redistributing it back into the ground. "What basically happened is that there was a feedback between the increased plant growth and the increased decomposer activity," said Sistla, who published her findings in a recent paper in Nature. "The question with Arctic warming is whether the increase in plant growth is going to outpace the release of carbon dioxide because of increasing decomposition," Sistla said.

(TOP) ~ Obama admin aims to improve efficiency, adapt to climate change by releasing data

Federal officials are releasing a flood of data as a means to address the nation's issues, including climate change. The White House has released government-held data to the public in more easily accessible formats under a new open data policy. Officials also expect releasing federally collected numbers could help people adapt to a warming planet. Amid the deluge of data are numbers on climate change and health, pooled together in an online portal. Called the Metadata Access Tool for Climate and Health (MATCH), the program runs under the U.S. Global Change Research Program and aggregates more than 9,000 data sets from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. EPA, the U.S. Geological Survey and other agencies with relevant information. Researchers acknowledged that MATCH is in its early stages and still lacks some useful features. "It's not actually an interactive database yet," said Juli Trtanj, co-chairwoman of the climate change and human health group at the U.S. Global Change Research Program. She noted developers are trying to add mapping and timing features so users can see trends like rainfall changing over time in a given area. See the online portal

(TOP) ~ Agricultural innovation to protect the environment

In a world of 9.5 billion people, global demand for food, fiber, and biofuels has to be met with minimal possible increases in land, water, fossil fuels, and the minerals used to produce fertilizers. The problem is debated at three levels: first, that agriculture will not be able to produce enough because it will come up against both biophysical and environmental limits that restrict yields; second, that the need to expand and intensify agriculture will destroy the broader environmental values of forests, wetlands, marine systems, and their associated biodiversity; and third, that there are institutional obstacles to the diffusion and adoption of the innovations that could solve these problems. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Two USDA agencies can enhance safeguards against project duplication

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a report which found that ARS and NIFA built in their own safeguards such as (1) panels of independent external scientists who review proposed projects and (2) agency requirements for staff to ensure that proposed work is relevant, including checking the Current Research Information System (CRIS). Nevertheless, GAO identified a few shortcomings that somewhat limit the utility of certain agency safeguards. Read full report

Congressional/Administration News

(TOP) ~ White House wants another 5% shaved off 2015 budgets

The White House is again directing agencies to pare down their budgets. In one of her first acts as director of the Office of Management and Budget, Sylvia Mathews Burwell told agencies to submit 2015 budget proposals that are 5 percent below 2014 enacted discretionary levels. That's on top of the 5 percent reduction already proposed for fiscal 2014. In a memo to department heads, Burwell acknowledged "the compounding challenges that agencies face in continuing to provide vital services and protect mission in an environment of sequestration." The cuts are meant as a starting point for negotiations with lawmakers on canceling sequestration, which went into effect in March. The White House hopes agencies can find efficiencies on their own, rather than suffer under blanket budget reductions that force officials to uniformly decrease spending in every account. That has caused agencies to put hundreds of thousands of federal employees on unpaid leave. Burwell's memo directs agencies to find savings from overlap, fragmentation and duplication, but it prohibits them from using across-the-board reductions or reducing mandatory spending. Read the memo

(TOP) ~ ASA, CSSA, and SSSA sign onto CNSF merit review letter

On May 20, ASA, CSSA and SSSA signed on to a letter to Rep. Lamar Smith (R, TX-21) in support of the peer review system used at the National Science Foundation. The letter was a response to The High Quality Research Act, draft legislation that requires that all NSF grants are certified by the NSF Director, and a letter sent to NSF questioning the "intellectual merit" of several NSF grants. The letter in support of peer review was sponsored by the Coalition for National Science Funding and signed by over 100 organizations. Read full letter and Read Rep. Smith letter

(TOP) ~ FY13 budget and related ERS actions

In a notice dated April 25, 2013 to 'Customers and Stakeholders', ERS has decided to focus on the areas that are most important in informing decision makers and on the topics where it has particular strengths as an intramural Federal research agency. ERS will not release several commodity newsletters and data products that are listed on the Agency’s calendar. These commodities are dairy, aquaculture, vegetables and pulses, rice, cattle, and fruit and tree nuts. ERS has also suspended updates for other data products in order to direct staff and other resources towards higher priority products. Read the notice

(TOP) ~ Nomination of Regina McCarthy to serve as EPA administrator

mccarthyThe Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on May 16, 2013 approved the nomination for consideration by the full US Senate. She is currently serving as EPA Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Senate confirms Moniz as Energy secretary

The Senate has confirmed Ernest J. Moniz as Energy secretary. The chamber voted 97-0 to back Moniz, who serves as director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Energy Initiative and also was an Energy undersecretary during the Clinton administration. Moniz will succeed the outgoing secretary, Steven Chu. Senators from both parties praised Moniz for having the scientific background and practical knowledge to guide the Energy Department as it manages newly discovered reserves of natural gas, combats the effects of climate change and advances energy development technologies. Moniz brings a background in theoretical nuclear physics to the Energy Department, which is in charge of planning and administering energy research and development programs as well as overseeing nuclear weapons systems. As undersecretary, Moniz led a comprehensive review of the nuclear weapons stockpile stewardship program and served as the secretary’s special negotiator for Russian nuclear weapons materials.

(TOP) ~ National Academies of Sciences Public Access hearing

On May 14-17, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council hosted two meetings on public access to scientific publications and data. The meetings were a chance for stakeholder groups and individuals to make comments on the a recent memorandum from the Office of Science and Technology Policy that stated all federal agencies must develop a plan to increase public access to the results of research funded by the federal government. ASA, CSSA and SSSA submitted statements at both the publications and the data meetings (to hear the statement, scroll down and click the link for “Julie McClure Agronomy, Crop and Soil Science Societies”).

Sources: The Chicago Council on Global Affairs; Climatewire; Congressional Quarterly; Environmental Protection Agency; Food Industry Environmental Network, LLC; Meridian Institute; NASA; National Academy of Sciences; The New York Times; UN Food and Agriculture Organization; US Department of Agriculture; US Geological Survey; USAID; Washington Post

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.