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Science Policy Report

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03 July 2013

In This Issue:

International Corner

~ USAID releases feed the future progress report, scorecard
~ House GOP's immigration playbook
~ FAO Statistical Yearbook paints a big, and detailed, picture of food and agriculture
~ 2013 World Food Prize awarded to three biotechnology scientists
~ Feeding an urban world: a call to action
~ Model helps developing nations budget for climate change

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ Small Business Innovation Research Program - Phase I
~ Small Business Innovation Research; PHASE I Program Solicitation
~ FY13 Region 5 Wetland Program Development Grants
~ Cooperative Watershed Studies Program
~ Risk Management Education in Targeted States

Conferences, Meetings and Reports

~ Pesticide program dialogue committee; notice of public meeting
~ Framework Assessing the Health, Environmental, and Social Effects of the Food System
~ Five perspectives on improving the U.S. public research, education, and extension system
~ Atlantic coast to see severe erosion, inundation from hurricanes, USGS report
~ National sustainability policy should be established
~ Synthetic plant hormone could lead to less-thirsty crops, study
~ In a warmer West, one soil bacterium will rule the desert
~ AGU Conference- Drowning and Drought: Agricultural Impacts of Climate Change
~ 2013 Science & SciLifeLab Prize: deadline August 15th

Congressional/Administration News

~ ASA, CSSA, SSSA August Challenge
~ National Science & Technology Council's committee on STEM releases 5-year plan
~ Climate push renewed: ag components part of president's plan
~ Obama uses climate speech to raise sustainability benchmark
~ With McCarthy delay, agency enters longest period without permanent chief
~ House leaves town with no decisions on farm bill's fate
~ Fact sheet: President Obama’s climate action plan

International Corner


(TOP) ~ USAID releases feed the future progress report, scorecard

feed the futureIn a move that could have an influence on the debate over food aid in the farm bill, President Obama announced in Senegal the release of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s progress report and scorecard on Feed the Future, the administration’s signature agricultural development program. The House Foreign Affairs Committee gave the proposal a favorable hearing, however, and the elements of the proposal are still subject to debate in the farm bill. U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah has said that he believes support will be maintained because Congress will be so impressed with the innovation and efficiency of the Feed the Future program that members will still support the program. The report shows that the Obama administration has met most of its goals in Feed the Future and exceeded others, but not met all of them. The report also shows that, while the U.S. government pledged $3.85 billion to reduce world hunger and food insecurity, U.S. government agencies had disbursed only $1.37 billion by last December. Get more information


(TOP) ~ House GOP's immigration playbook

For immigration reform, July 10 is a big day. It’s when the House Republican Conference will meet to figure out how to address the immigration reform bill passed by the Senate. Top GOP aides and lawmakers privately say they are skeptical that any immigration bill could get the support of 218 Republicans. Still, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and the House leadership, while they plan to ignore the Senate bill, know they cannot dismiss the issue altogether. The July 10 meeting will help chart a path forward on immigration reform. The leadership will look to see where lawmakers stand on four main issues: the future flow of immigrants into the country; a possible pathway to citizenship, government benefits, and border security. Read full article


(TOP) ~ FAO Statistical Yearbook paints a big, and detailed, picture of food and agriculture

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has released its 2013 Statistical Yearbook which covers capital and investment; climate change; food availability; food production and trade; food prices; hunger and malnutrition; the consequences of political instability and natural- and human-induced disasters on food security; the state of the agricultural resource base and sustainability and environmental impacts. The Yearbook finds that greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture grew 1.6 percent per year during the decade after the year 2000 with the sector's total annual output in 2010 reaching 5 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalents. Almost 870 million people, or 12.5 percent of the world's population, were undernourished in 2010-2012; the vast majority of them (852 million) live in developing countries. Global crop production has expanded threefold over the past 50 years, largely through higher yields per unit of land and crop intensification. Read full article


(TOP) ~ 2013 World Food Prize awarded to three biotechnology scientists

Marc Van Montagu, who is Founder and Chairman of the Institute of Plant Biotechnology Outreach at Ghent University in Belgium; Mary-Dell Chilton, who is Founder and Distinguished Fellow of Syngenta Biotechnology; and Robert T. Fraley, the Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of Monsanto each conducted groundbreaking molecular research on how a plant bacterium could be adapted as a tool to insert genes from another organism into plant cells. This research could produce new genetic lines with highly favorable traits. These discoveries unlocked the key to plant cell transformation using recombinant DNA. Their work led to the development of a host of genetically enhanced crops, which, by 2012, were grown on more than 170 million hectares around the globe by 17.3 million farmers, over 90 percent of whom were small resource-poor farmers in developing countries. It should be noted that award winner, Mary Dell Chilton, was the Crop Science Society of America’s 2011 Presidential Award Winner. Read full article


(TOP) ~ Feeding an urban world: a call to action

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs has released a report on urban food security from its Emerging Leaders Class of 2013. The group of 21 Chicago leaders has spent the last year developing an action plan for analyzing and addressing urban food security and the dual challenges of under-nutrition and obesity that have beset many urban centers. In their report, Feeding an Urban World: A Call to Action, they propose Chicago utilize its extensive corporate, academic, philanthropic, and public policy resources to assume a leadership role and become a model for other cities in addressing the challenges of feeding urban populations. Read full report


(TOP) ~ Model helps developing nations budget for climate change

While the vast majority of scientists are certain that climate change will have major impacts across the globe over the next century, because the changes will not happen uniformly, determining exactly how these impacts will play out on a smaller scale is a challenge. With developing countries such as Ethiopia, it is becoming increasingly important to learn how changes in temperature and precipitation will affect future economies, especially as many of these nations rely on climate-sensitive sectors like rain-fed agriculture to feed their people. In order to get a clearer picture of climate change's local impacts and adaptation costs, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the United Nations University developed a model that combines climate science and economics to learn how global warming affects both smaller sectors like transportation and agriculture and a country's overall gross domestic product. The model is demonstrated in a recently released working paper from IFPRI and the Ethiopian Development Research Institute titled "The Cost of Adapting to Climate Change in Ethiopia," co-authored by Strzepek. Read full report

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities


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

USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is seeking grant funding applications for high-quality research or research and development (R/R&D) applications containing advanced concepts related to important scientific problems and opportunities that could lead to significant public benefit. Objectives of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program include stimulating technological innovation in the private sector, strengthening the role of small businesses in meeting Federal research and development needs, increasing private sector commercialization of innovations derived from USDA-supported research and development efforts and fostering and encouraging participation by women-owned and socially and economically disadvantaged small business firms in technological innovation. Deadline 26 Sep. Read full announcement


(TOP) ~ Small Business Innovation Research; PHASE I Program Solicitation

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) invites small businesses to submit research proposals under this Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Solicitation. Proposals must directly pertain to EPA’s mission of protecting human health and the environment. The SBIR program is a phased process across the Federal Government of soliciting proposals and awarding funding agreements for research (R) or research and development (R&D) to meet stated agency needs or missions. EPA is interested in advanced technologies that address priority environmental issues. In this year’s solicitation, an attempt has been made to focus and limit the topics in order to have more impact in specific areas. Deadline 13 Aug. Read full announcement


(TOP) ~ FY13 Region 5 Wetland Program Development Grants

Wetland Program Development Grants (WPDGs) provide eligible applicants an opportunity to conduct and promote the coordination and acceleration of research, investigations, experiments, training, demonstrations, surveys, and studies relating to the causes, effects, extent, prevention, reduction, and elimination of water pollution. All proposals submitted under this RFP must be for projects that build or refine state/tribal/local government wetland programs. Implementation of wetland protection programs is not an eligible project under this announcement. Deadline 24 Jul. Read full announcement


(TOP) ~ Cooperative Watershed Studies Program

The Shenandoah Watershed Study and the Virginia Trout Stream Sensitivity Study - a combined watershed studies program. Deadline 30 Jun. Read full announcement


(TOP) ~ Risk Management Education in Targeted States

The Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC), operating through USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA), announces its intent to award approximately $5 million to fund cooperative agreements under the Risk Management Education in Targeted States Program. The purpose of this program is to deliver crop insurance education and information to U.S. agricultural producers in States where there is traditionally, and continues to be, a low level of Federal crop insurance participation and availability, and producers are underserved by the Federal crop insurance program. These states, defined as Targeted States for the purposes of this RFA, are Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Deadline 22 Jul. Read full announcement

Conferences, Meetings and Reports


(TOP) ~ Pesticide program dialogue committee; notice of public meeting

The EPA Office of Pesticide Programs has scheduled a non-technical Stakeholder Workshop titled 'Where Vision Meets Action: Practical Application of 21st Century Methods' for July 9, 2013 in Arlington, Virginia to provide an opportunity for stakeholder discussion on how OPP envisions applying new science to change the way pesticide risks are evaluated, and to examine the challenges and benefits of making this transition. Additionally, the Pesticide Program Dialogue Committee (PPDC) has scheduled a public meeting for July 10 and 11, 2013 in Arlington, Virginia. Get more information


(TOP) ~ Framework Assessing the Health, Environmental, and Social Effects of the Food System

The IOM Food and Nutrition Board and Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources of the National Academies have scheduled a public meeting for July 16, 2013 in Washington, DC, titled "A Framework for Assessing the Health, Environmental, and Social Effects of the Food System", which is intended to gather information from invited experts who will provide a broad overview of the major aspects of the committee’s charge to examine the health, environmental, and social impacts of the food system, and to help frame the issues on the existing methods and metrics that are being used. Get more information


(TOP) ~ Five perspectives on improving the U.S. public research, education, and extension system

The following papers, Five Perspectives on Improving the U.S. Public Research, Education, and Extension System, were written by independent authors in response to a call for concept notes issued by AGree to elicit bold ideas on strengthening the U.S. public sector agricultural research system, one of AGree’s priority strategies. The five topics were selected by AGree Advisors and Co-Chairs based on the quality of the proposal, feasibility, relevance to the questions listed, and creativity. While the concepts presented in these papers will enrich AGree’s discussions about food and agriculture research, the positions contained in the papers in no way represent official AGree positions. View the papers


(TOP) ~ Atlantic coast to see severe erosion, inundation from hurricanes, USGS report

hurricaneSandy beaches from New York to Florida are at risk of severe erosion and even inundation should even the weakest of hurricanes touch down on the Atlantic coast, according to a new set of reports from the U.S. Geological Survey. USGS researchers found that during a Category 1 hurricane, in which winds blow between 74 and 95 miles per hour, almost 90 percent of beaches on the Atlantic coastline are very likely to experience dune erosion if the storm makes landfall. The outcomes may be catastrophic. Lives can be lost, communities destroyed and millions of dollars spent on restoration. One of the reports assesses the southern coastline from Florida to North Carolina, while the other examines Virginia to New York. For many areas, erosion isn't the only concern. Low-lying coastal regions in particular can also experience overwash, in which sand is transported inward by waves and surge, as well as inundation, in which an entire beach system is submerged and in severe cases breached by waters. According to the report, 9 percent of the entire study region is likely to be inundated during a Category 1 storm. Read FL-NC report and Read VA-NY report


(TOP) ~ National sustainability policy should be established

A National Sustainability Policy should be established for the United States in order to encourage federal agencies to collaborate on sustainability challenges that demand the expertise of many agencies, such as improving disaster resilience and managing ecosystems, according to a report released by the National Academies National Research Council. The report notes that currently, the government is generally not organized to deal with the complex, long-term nature of sustainability challenges. The report offers a decision-making framework that can help agencies identify and enlist other agencies and private stakeholders that should be involved and identifies four challenges of national importance that should be top priorities: [1] Connections among energy, food and water; [2] Diverse and healthy ecosystems; [3] Resilience of communities to natural disasters and other extreme events; [4] Human health and well-being. Read full article


(TOP) ~ Synthetic plant hormone could lead to less-thirsty crops, study

Researchers have found a chemical that can stimulate a plant's tolerance to drought, offering promise to farmers in a changing climate around the world. The plant hormone abscisic acid (ABA) is an essential hormone that regulates many processes in plants, including responses to stresses like drought, heat and salty water. In a paper published online yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists believe they have found a synthetic chemical, called quinabactin, that can stimulate a plant to close its pores, allowing it to conserve water in arid conditions. The researchers carried out their studies on Arabidopsis, a plant used in many experiments because its changes on the cellular level are easily observed. They tested the chemical on soybeans, corn and barley. The quinabactin treatments delayed water loss from the leaves and increased the overall size of the crops, compared to plants that were given different treatments. See full report


(TOP) ~ In a warmer West, one soil bacterium will rule the desert

soil bacteriaIn the harsh desert environments of Western states like Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, a tiny bacterium plays an underappreciated role. As the bacterium, called Microcoleus vaginatus, grows, its filaments reach out and form a web, effectively gluing together the dry, sandy soil and forming a stable crust. Without these bacteria, the soil can blow away easily, with a host of negative effects. When the bacteria are present, even hurricane-force winds have a hard time disturbing the ground. This matters because dust from the deserts, once blown aloft, can travel hundreds of miles to land on snow in the Rocky Mountains, causing it to melt quicker and earlier. The M. vaginatus bacteria also help desert plants grow by taking carbon and nitrogen out of the atmosphere and putting it into the soil. Yet in just a few decades, because of rising temperatures in the Southwest, M. vaginatus may no longer be the dominant microbe in these soils, according to new research by Garcia-Pichel published in the journal Science. In 50 years, a different microbe called Microcoleus steenstrupii, one scientists know almost nothing about, is likely to take its place. When the average annual temperature gets above 55 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit, M. vaginatus loses its ruling role. It doesn't go away completely, but M. steenstrupii takes its place as the main bacterium in the soil. One of the next steps will be to sequence the genome of M. steenstrupii and compare it with M. vaginatus. That way, researchers can see how the replacement bacterium might function similarly or differently in these Southwest deserts.


(TOP) ~ AGU Conference- Drowning and Drought: Agricultural Impacts of Climate Change

SSSA Past President Gary Pierzynski acted as moderator during a session discussing the agricultural impacts of climate change. Agriculture remains a significant industry in the United States, but changes in the climate affect livestock, crops, and even our energy supply. Floods, droughts, and warmer temperatures could make it more difficult for farmers to grow crops or provide habitats for animals and fish. During this session, agriculture scientists and a farmer discussed current effects on American farmland and what our best science shows the future might hold. These ideas are especially important as policymakers prepare for climate change and farmers adapt to using new technologies and practices. See available webcasts


(TOP) ~ 2013 Science & SciLifeLab Prize: deadline August 15th

Science/AAAS and SciLifeLab, a coordinated effort of four universities, have joined forces in creating the Science & SciLifeLab Prize for Young Scientists. Both Science/AAAS and SciLifeLab recognize that global economic health is dependent upon a vibrant research community and we need to incent our best and brightest to continue in their chosen fields of research. Considering the difficult economic environment, we feel it is important to provide extra encouragement to young scientists as they begin their scientific careers. Each year, the grand prize winner will receive a prize of US$25,000, while three runners-up receive prizes of US$5,000. The grand prize winning essay will be published in Science and essays from the three runners-up will be published online. Get more information

Congressional/Administration News


(TOP) ~ ASA, CSSA, SSSA August Challenge

august challengeAugust means one thing in the policy world: members of Congress returning home! This summer, ASA, CSSA & SSSA are challenging our members to schedule 50 meetings during the month of August, one in every state. To prepare new advocates for this challenge, the Science Policy Office has launched a new Advocacy Toolkit, where we provide informational materials and talking points that you can use in your meetings to show Congress just how valuable food, agriculture and natural resources research is. We will also be hosting a series of webinars on the basics of science policy and how to schedule and lead a Congressional meeting. Get more information


(TOP) ~ National Science & Technology Council's committee on STEM releases 5-year plan

The President’s FY 2014 budget request includes a 6.7 percent increase for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education while reducing the number of federal STEM education programs from 226 to 110. The FY 2014 proposal eliminates 78 federal STEM education programs and consolidates 38 programs. Fourteen federal agencies have STEM education programs and the President’s proposal consolidates those education programs into three agencies, the Department of Education, the National Science Foundation and the Smithsonian Institution. These changes are outlined in a 5-year Federal STEM Education Strategic Plan that is aimed at defining the Administration’s path forward for the restructuring of federal STEM education programs. The Strategic Plan was a requirement set by the America Competes Reauthorization Act of 2010 and was prepared by the Committee on STEM Education (CoSTEM) of the National Science and Technology Council. Included in the Plan is a FY 2011 inventory of STEM education programs. See the plan


(TOP) ~ Climate push renewed: ag components part of president's plan

President Barack Obama has announced plans to circumvent Congress by issuing executive orders that will implement a number of programs and regulations to address climate change, many of which will directly affect farmers. The administration continues to support the development of advanced biofuels. "We'll need scientists to invent new fuels," Obama said. "We'll need farmers to grow new fuels." The president continues to support the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), despite some efforts in Congress to change or eliminate the law. "Biofuels have an important role to play in increasing our energy security, fostering rural economic development, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector," the climate action plan states. Read full article


(TOP) ~ Obama uses climate speech to raise sustainability benchmark

President Obama set yet another sustainability benchmark for federal agencies in his speech on climate change. "Today I'm setting a new goal," he said. "Your federal government will consume 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources within the next seven years." That's twice the current goal of 7.5 percent, and another burden on agencies that are already struggling to hit some of the targets in a sustainability initiative launched in 2009. In March, OMB released score cards showing the progress of agencies in meeting those targets, which include reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, petroleum use and potable water intensity. The score cards showed that most agencies face obstacles in creating "green" buildings, mostly due to the government's aging real estate portfolio. But most agencies were meeting their renewable energy targets, though some still lagged behind. The Department of Energy, for example, was ahead of the game, with 17.5 percent of its facility electricity use coming from renewable electricity sources. But the Department of Commerce was behind with 4.8 percent of electricity from renewables. By setting a 20 percent government-wide goal, Obama could adjust the goal for each agency with some using more renewable energy and others less.


(TOP) ~ With McCarthy delay, agency enters longest period without permanent chief

As Senate Republicans continue to block the nomination of Gina McCarthy to head U.S. EPA, the agency has now entered its longest period without a permanent administrator. It's been months since former Administrator Lisa Jackson departed the agency Feb. 14. McCarthy was first nominated 121 days ago, which supporters say is also a record wait for a potential EPA leader. Despite passing the Environment and Public Works Committee on a party-line vote, McCarthy's nomination has been held up on the floor over GOP questions about transparency from the agency. An ongoing hold from Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) over an environmental assessment for a floodway project in his state is another hurdle. Combined with the delays for secretary of Labor nominee Thomas Perez, Democrats say they're considering changing Senate rules to move nominees with just 51 votes. EPW Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said that after the Senate's July Fourth recess, she will lobby heavily to move McCarthy's nomination as quickly as possible, by whatever means necessary.


(TOP) ~ House leaves town with no decisions on farm bill's fate

The House has packed up for a one-week recess with no clear direction on where to go with the farm bill. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said that while there have been discussions over the bill's fate, including whether to split the food stamps portion from the farm programs included in the bill, there is nothing sure yet about what the House will do next. The House voted down the farm bill last week in a 195-234 vote, taking the agricultural community and House leadership by surprise and spurring questions over whether Boehner has lost control of his Republican Party. Since the vote, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has been pushing to divide the bill into food stamps and farm programs to get beyond objections to the cut to food stamps, according to interest groups. Several conservative Republicans have called for such a split, arguing that the farm bill is more of a food stamps bill already, given that 80 percent of funding goes toward nutrition assistance for needy people. But dividing the bill is unlikely to receive support from farm-state lawmakers. It's long been thought that the food stamps portion of the bill is vital to obtaining support from urban lawmakers for farm subsidy programs.


(TOP) ~ Fact sheet: President Obama’s climate action plan

The plan directs EPA to work closely with states, industry and other stakeholders to establish air emission standards for both new and existing power plants; makes up to $8 billion in loan guarantee authority available for a wide array of advanced fossil energy and efficiency projects to support investments in innovative technologies; directs the Interior Department to permit enough renewables project on public lands by 2020 to power more than 6 million homes; designates the first-ever hydropower project for priority permitting; and sets a new goal to install 100 megawatts of renewables on federally assisted housing by 2020. See fact sheet

Sources: AGree; The Chicago Council on Global Affairs; Climatewire; DTN The Progressive Farmer; Energy and Environment Daily; Feed the Future; Food Industry Environmental Network, LLC; Greenwire; Meridian Institute; National Academy of Sciences; Politico; UN Food and Agriculture Organization

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.