Science Policy Report

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31 July 2013

In This Issue:

International Corner

~ Is Feed the Future delivering results? Yes, with some limitations
~ Global leaders launch initiative to bridge conservation and agriculture
~ EFSA consults on draft guidance for measuring pesticide degradation time in soil
~ Accelerated permafrost melt could have worldwide impacts
~ Can better ways to raise cows and an ancient practice called 'biochar' save the planet?
~ US farmers keep eye on immigration reform

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ Small Business Innovation Research: Air, Water and Soils
~ Water Sustainability and Climate
~ Higher Education Multicultural Scholars Program
~ National Needs Graduate Fellowship
~ Food for Progress Program
~ Environmental Education Outreach and Restoration
~ Ivarson Legacy Will Benefit Ag Students

Conferences, Meetings and Reports

~ New USDA report highlighting outcomes enabled by NIFA
~ New study addresses trade-offs between food security and climate change mitigation
~ Nathan Nelson comments at NIFA stakeholder web-based listening session
~ Continuing heat, drought and flooding make up this year's weather story
~ New USDA guidelines on crop insurance and cover crops
~ Request for nominations of members for the NAREEEAB
~ Biofuels compete little with food production - so far

Congressional/Administration News

~ Bipartisan agriculture research bill to spur innovation, strengthen American agriculture
~ Senate votes 59-40 to confirm McCarthy
~ The future of the RFS becomes less easy to predict
~ A road-tripping summer campaign aims to sell Obama's action plan
~ Farm bill extension eyed as pessimism grows on nutrition title talks
~ Full committee to grapple with EPA, Interior funding cuts

International Corner

(TOP) ~ Is Feed the Future delivering results? Yes, with some limitations

feed the futureIn this opinion piece, David Hong, an agriculture expert for ONE and Stephanie Hanson of One Acre Fund, report on the U.S. government’s Feed the Future initiative from Iringa, Tanzania. They explore whether the program is delivering results and conclude that it is, with some limitations. Feed the Future (FtF) is fundamentally different from the emergency food aid the U.S. has delivered for decades; FtF seeks to ensure long-term food security by empowering smallholder farmers in the developing world. But agriculture development, write Hong and Hanson, takes a long time to show results. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Global leaders launch initiative to bridge conservation and agriculture

A year ago, global leaders met in Rio de Janeiro to shape the future of sustainable development. Ensuring food security and sustainable agriculture was a cornerstone of those global discussions. As the world faces ongoing food crises, extreme weather and population growth, Bioversity International and global partners are responding by launching an initiative to develop solutions to food security and shape the Sustainable Development Goals. The ‘Bridging Agriculture and Conservation Initiative’ which has been symbolically launched in Rio, will provide evidence-based solutions to feed a growing population, while ensuring long-term conservation of vital biodiversity, including agricultural biodiversity. Read full article

(TOP) ~ EFSA consults on draft guidance for measuring pesticide degradation time in soil

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is seeking public comments on its draft guidance to carry out a highly specialized aspect of environmental exposure assessment for pesticides. The proposed methodology helps scientists to evaluate studies that measure the time required for 50% of pesticides to disappear from soil or water due to degradation alone. Get more information

(TOP) ~ Accelerated permafrost melt could have worldwide impacts

Accelerated melting of permafrost in a dry valley of Antarctica may be a harbinger for widespread thawing of permafrost at Earth's far latitudes, according to a new study. Melt rates in the 4-mile-long Garwood Valley near McMurdo Bay increased tenfold over little more than a decade, despite a local two-decade cooling trend, according to a report in the journal Nature Scientific Reports. The scientists found that changing patterns of soil erosion altered the amount of solar radiation absorbed in the area, known as the albedo effect, adding about 2 watts of energy per square meter. The fact that the permafrost has been melting due to soil erosion and sunlight, despite cooling air temperatures may be a bit worrisome. Adding a small rise in temperature, as predicted by climate models, would cause a wide swath of the valley to melt. That type of accelerated melt could become typical at the fringes of much larger areas, such as Antarctica's ice sheets and the land ice in Greenland. Unlike the dry valley thaw, those melts would contribute significantly to rising sea levels.

(TOP) ~ Can better ways to raise cows and an ancient practice called 'biochar' save the planet?

It is not about whether you should eat meat, but about the type of meat you eat. A panel discussion hosted by the New America Foundation, which examined ways to transform agricultural practices to fight climate change, hark back to the food movement and the benefits of purchasing grass-fed beef. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, agriculture worldwide accounts for at least 25 percent of greenhouse gas emissions each year. Most of the emissions stem from livestock, animal waste and rice cultivation. The potential to mitigate carbon emissions through improved agricultural practices over the next three decades appears to be substantial. A study published by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions estimates that reductions from a combination of carbon sequestration, nitrous oxide and methane reductions would have a major effect. How improvements translate into quantifiable reductions may require incentives that cut costs or reward practices like carbon sequestration, which could include use of the 2,000-year-old practice that converts agricultural waste into a soil enhancer that can hold carbon, increase yields and lessen the need for tree cutting, called biochar. Indigenous populations in Brazil's Amazon were the first to use the dark, charcoal-like material that results from vegetation fires. The carbon content in biochar can retain carbon for long periods of time, possibly hundreds of years, and is produced through gasification. Read the study

(TOP) ~ US farmers keep eye on immigration reform

American farmers are experiencing a shortage of people to work their fields. The workers they do have are largely from Latin America and in the United States with false documents. Farmers say without immigration reform, both problems will continue. Second generation farmer Larry Cox said growing and harvesting vegetables depends on migrants or day laborers from Mexico, but not enough of them are crossing the border. “We have had a chronic shortage of help almost for the last 10 years,” Cox stated. Cox said it has been difficult getting visas to work in the United States, so many farm workers from Latin America would work with fake documents. Read full article

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

(TOP) ~ Small Business Innovation Research: Air, Water and Soils

usdaThe Air, Water and Soils topic area aims to develop technologies for conserving and protecting air, water and soil resources while sustaining optimal farm and forest productivity. Climate variability and food security are major focal points of this topic area. Efforts are needed to reduce the production of greenhouse gases that result from agricultural activities and to increase carbon sequestration in soils. Climate change is likely to alter temperature and precipitation patterns and new technologies are needed that will better enable plant and animal production systems to adapt to changing climatic conditions. Deadline 26 Sep. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Water Sustainability and Climate

The goal of the Water Sustainability and Climate (WSC) solicitation is to understand and predict the interactions between the water system and climate change, land use (including agriculture, managed forest and rangeland systems), the built environment, and ecosystem function and services through place-based research and integrative models. Studies of the water system using models and/or observations at specific sites singly or in combination that allow for spatial and temporal extrapolation to other regions, as well as integration across the different processes in that system are encouraged, especially to the extent that they advance the development of theoretical frameworks and predictive understanding. Deadline 10 Sep. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Higher Education Multicultural Scholars Program

The purpose of this competitive undergraduate scholarship grant program is to increase the multicultural diversity of the food and agricultural scientific and professional workforce, and advance the educational achievement of all Americans by providing competitive grants to colleges and universities. The Multicultural Scholars Program is available every year. Deadline 30 Aug. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ National Needs Graduate Fellowship

This grant program supports: (1) training students for Master's and doctoral degrees in food, agricultural and natural resource sciences, and; (2) Special International Study or Thesis/Dissertation Research Travel Allowances (IRTA) for eligible USDA NNF beneficiaries. Awards are specifically intended to support traineeship programs that engage outstanding students to pursue and complete their degrees in USDA mission areas. Applicants provide clarity about the philosophy of their graduate training, and relevance to USDA mission sciences, NIFA priorities and national science education policies and statistics. Deadline 30 Aug. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Food for Progress Program

The Food for Progress program provides for the donation of U.S. agricultural commodities to developing countries and emerging democracies that are committed to introducing or expanding free enterprise in their agricultural economies. Donated commodities are typically “monetized” (or sold on the local market), and the proceeds are used to fund agricultural development activities. Deadline 2 Aug. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Environmental Education Outreach and Restoration

This program is to support environmental education outreach for watershed restoration with non-BLM partners on Federal and non-Federal lands within the Calapooia watershed. Educational outreach programs aimed at landowners, volunteers, private and non-profit organizations are to encourage public involvement in riparian restoration in order to foster better stewardship of watersheds in advance of resource degradation to ensure sustainable watershed health, functions and uses. The objective of this program is to coordinate comprehensive planning, assessment and educational outreach for the strategic management of watershed systems. Deadline 5 Aug. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Ivarson Legacy Will Benefit Ag Students

The Agricultural Institute of Canada Foundation is proud to announce a new scholarship fund made possible through the generous bequest of Albertan soil scientist, Dr. Karl C. Ivarson. Dr. Ivarson has ensured that his commitment to the future of Canadian agriculture will be continued through many generations of agricultural students. The Karl C. Ivarson Agricultural Scholarship will provide two awards: one $10,000 Masters level and one $15,000 PhD level. Details for the 2013 soil science scholarship will be announced at a later date. Deadline 18 Oct. Get more information

Conferences, Meetings and Reports

(TOP) ~ New USDA report highlighting outcomes enabled by NIFA

The US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture was established by the Food Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (the 2008 Farm Bill) to find innovative solutions to issues related to agriculture, food, the environment, and communities. The agency works with other government agencies, industry, and academia to lead research, education, and Cooperative Extension activities. The work that NIFA supports is part of a dynamic system that moves science from labs to farm and classroom, to dining table, and back again. Read full report

(TOP) ~ New study addresses trade-offs between food security and climate change mitigation

Improving crop yields using sustainable methods could cut greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 12% per calorie produced according to a new study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. At the same time, these changes could provide more food to people in need. Agriculture and land use change contributed about 1/3 of total human greenhouse gas emissions in the past decade, through crop cultivation, animal production, and deforestation. By producing more food on less land, it may be possible to reduce these emissions, but this so-called intensification often involves increasing fertilizer use, which can lead to large emissions of nitrogen-containing gases that also contribute to global warming. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Nathan Nelson comments at NIFA stakeholder web-based listening session

On July 16, Nathan Nelson from Kansas State University, on behalf of ASA, CSSA, and SSSA commented during a NIFA-organized stakeholder web-based listening session regarding new water issues challenge area within AFRI in Fiscal Year (FY) 2014. See the comments

(TOP) ~ Continuing heat, drought and flooding make up this year's weather story

drought and floodGlobal average temperatures in June were the fifth highest on record, as above-average heat conditions continued a multi-decade streak, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has reported. June marked the 340th consecutive month (a span of time more than 28 years) that global temperatures surged above the 20th century average, according to the agency. A study authored by NOAA scientist Thomas Peterson reported that heat waves became more frequent in the United States in recent decades, but there are decadal variations. When the entire temperature record is considered, the 1930s had the largest number of heat waves, Peterson said. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated in one assessment that global climate change "is likely to be accompanied by an increase in the frequency and intensity of heat waves, as well as warmer summers." See full report

(TOP) ~ New USDA guidelines on crop insurance and cover crops

In late June, new guidelines were released by USDA pertaining to cover crop management and crop insurance.  The new guidelines came about as a result of concerns expressed by many farmers who had difficulty terminating (killing) their cover crops by USDA-specified calendar dates, especially when weather conditions prevented field operations.  If farmers using cover crops failed to terminate a cover crop by the applicable date, they were at risk of losing their eligibility for crop insurance on commodity crops such as corn and soybeans. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Request for nominations of members for the NAREEEAB

USDA has corrected the due date to August 30, 2013 for the nomination of individuals to fill 8 vacancies on the National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics Advisory Board [NAREEEAB]. The vacancies are for representatives of F. National Food Animal Science Society; G. National Crop, Soil, Agronomy, Horticulture, or Weed Science Society; L. 1890 Land-Grant Colleges and Universities; P. American Colleges of Veterinary Medicine; T. Rural Economic Development; U. National Consumer Interest Group; V. National Forestry Group; W. National Conservation or Natural Resource Groups. See the correction and Get more information

(TOP) ~ Biofuels compete little with food production - so far

A week after the environmental committee of the European Parliament capped biofuel production from food crops to a maximum of 5.5% because of its effect on food security, a new study reveals food production is not suffering much from the use of corn, wheat or palm oil in biofuel production. Calculating land use changes in Brazil, the USA, the EU, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Africa and Mozambique, a team headed by Hans Langeveld demonstrated biofuels are not likely to compete with food production, or cause major deforestation, usually indicated as indirect land use change (ILUC). According to the study, between 2000 and 2010, urbanisation claimed twice the amount of land used for biofuel expansion. See full report

Congressional/Administration News

(TOP) ~ Bipartisan agriculture research bill to spur innovation, strengthen American agriculture

Sens. Stabenow and Thune and Reps. Nunes and Kind have reintroduced the Charitable Agricultural Research Act that would allow for the creation of charitable, tax-exempt agriculture research organizations that would work in conjunction with agriculture and land-grant universities and colleges to conduct agriculture research. This a great tool to increase private investment in agriculture research. Get more information

(TOP) ~ Senate votes 59-40 to confirm McCarthy

mccarthyThe Senate has confirmed Gina McCarthy to lead U.S. EPA, ending the agency's longest period without a permanent administrator and closing the door on a testy dispute over votes on executive nominees. McCarthy, who currently heads the agency's Air and Radiation Office, was confirmed on a 59-40 vote, with six Republicans voting for her. Among those Republicans was Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), who told reporters McCarthy was "well-qualified" and would be a "good leader" because she's shown she can work with industry in crafting rules. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) also backed McCarthy, saying there was unlikely to be another nominee from President Obama with credentials to please Republicans. Also voting for final passage were Republicans Kelly Ayotte (S.C.), Bob Corker (Tenn.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and John McCain (Ariz.). McCarthy enters as EPA is preparing an ambitious agenda, highlighted by the preparation of greenhouse gas emission standards for both new and existing power plants. McCarthy will also oversee the finalization of the Tier 3 gasoline sulfur standards and potential new limits on ozone pollution.

(TOP) ~ The future of the RFS becomes less easy to predict

Retain, reform or repeal. These are the three R's faced by the federal renewable fuel standard, but the results of any of those options remain unclear. The House Energy and Commerce Committee has held a number of hearings on the renewable fuel standard (RFS), the guiding law for a nationwide goal to produce 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022, asking experts to weigh in on the economic, environmental and technical impacts of a law. Rep. John Shimkus (R), whose southeastern Illinois district covers both oil refineries and corn farmers, said that a measure to repeal the RFS would not get many votes. But the call to reform has been popular. Since its passage in 2010, the amended RFS (which boosted the mandate from 7.5 billion gallons in 2012 to 36 billion by 2022) has been fraught with complaints. Oil trade groups say they are forced to blend more ethanol to comply than what the 10 percent blending rate for biofuels in gasoline can hold. Oil trade groups also complain that U.S. EPA sets too-high targets for cellulosic biofuels. The development of these fuels has also been painfully slow. According to the 2009 RFS mandate, there should be 1 billion gallons of cellulosic biofuels made this year. EPA has proposed that number be revised down to 14 million, and many are skeptical it can reach that much.

(TOP) ~ A road-tripping summer campaign aims to sell Obama's action plan

High-level Obama administration officials, lawmakers and environmental activists plan to blanket the country this summer shoring up support for the president's Climate Action Plan, talking about climate change in a way they hope will have local resonance. "The administration is focusing on continuing to explain the President's plan to the American people, while starting an implementation process that is transparent and inclusive," a White House official said in a memo. The official added that the president and members of his Cabinet would continue to make climate change-related announcements throughout the summer and to "highlight the importance of this plan for our public health and our ability to prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters such as floods, wildfires and hurricanes.” Outside groups plan to follow suit. Administration allies in the environmental and advocacy communities are planning their own events this summer to support the president's climate policies. For example, Organizing for Action, an advocacy group that grew out of the president's re-election campaign, will expand its effort to target lawmakers who are skeptical of man-made climate change by holding events on Aug. 13 in the districts of more than 130 congressional "climate deniers".

(TOP) ~ Farm bill extension eyed as pessimism grows on nutrition title talks

Majority Leader Eric Cantor has pressed ahead with a second meeting of House Republicans to discuss potential changes to the nation’s largest domestic food aid program. Meanwhile, House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas said another one-year extension of the 2008 farm bill is likely to be necessary if the House doesn’t pass a nutrition bill and get a conference committee underway by September. Rep. Steve Southerland, a participant in the food aid talks, said it seems unlikely that the nutrition legislation will be ready for a vote before the House leaves for August recess. However, Southerland said that revising the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program remains a priority and that he would expect Cantor to try to bring a bill to the floor during September. Lucas said that he is anticipating a possible extension of the current farm bill, though it is unclear how that might fare in the House. “I think that’s a very high probability,” Lucas, R-Okla., said of an extension. Southerland said no one wanted to ignore the nutrition title. “It was never our desire to pass farm bill legislation and not address SNAP. We’re having these meetings to get the job done, to address both farm policy as well as nutrition.”

(TOP) ~ Full committee to grapple with EPA, Interior funding cuts

The House Appropriations Committee's markup of fiscal 2014 Interior and Environment spending legislation is likely to be heavy on both amendments and partisan rhetoric. Both Democratic and Republican members of the panel's Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee agreed at the subpanel's markup that the $24.3 billion allocated for the Interior Department, U.S. EPA, the Forest Service and other programs was insufficient. But they disagreed on the reason the subcommittee arrived at that low number. Democrats put it down to GOP reluctance to invest in key environmental and natural resources programs, while Republicans said it was a consequence of Congress' refusal to curb spending. The bill would provide $9.7 billion to Interior Department agencies and $5.5 billion for EPA, both sharp declines from present levels that would result in key programs being pared back sharply. Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson acknowledged that the bill made some choices he would have preferred not to have made. For example, it zeros out funding for EPA's brownfields remediation grant program and for numerous conservation initiatives, including the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Sources: The Agricultural Institute of Canada Foundation; Biomass Research; Bioversity International; The Chicago Council on Global Affairs; Climatewire; Energy and Environment Daily; International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis; Meridian Institute; U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization; USDA

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.