Science Policy Report

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14 August 2013

In This Issue:

International Corner

~ Helping countries reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions
~ Veteran Himalayan researcher reverses earlier findings of looming water shortage
~ Scientists assert there is less weather variability, globally, than most people believe
~ The Chicago Council launches new website, Outrage and Inspire
~ Big animal extinction impoverishes soil

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ Assistance in NRCS Program Delivery
~ Missouri Conservation Programs Workshops and Projects
~ Conservation Innovative Grant - Maryland NRCS
~ Agricultural Management Assistance Organic Certification Cost-Share Program

Conferences, Meetings and Reports

~ U.S. farm production expenditures keep climbing
~ Renewable energy on farms study released
~ Scientists puzzle over the changing rate of emission from thawing permafrost
~ Traditional climate models neglect important soil carbon factors, study
~ Webinar: small-scale micro-irrigation design and components
~ NOAA report highlights climate change threats to nation’s estuaries

Congressional/Administration News

~ Farm bill hits wall as lawmakers leave for August break
~ Final letter on STEM education funding in House immigration bill
~ USDA administration nomination confirmed
~ EPA finalizes 2013 renewable fuel standards
~ Republican former heads of EPA publicly support Obama's action plan

International Corner

(TOP) ~ Helping countries reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions

emissionsThe UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has published a guidance document which provides step-wise advice and examples of national planning for GHG mitigation in food production systems, as well as highlighting opportunities for developing countries to secure climate financing for agriculture. Examples from existing mitigation planning processes in developing countries illustrate options for addressing key planning elements in country-specific ways, and approaches to involving smallholder farmers in the planning process are highlighted as well. The report states that mitigation actions in agriculture should be pursued within the context supporting agricultural development and food security, with planners clarifying from the start how mitigation can contribute to national development goals. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Veteran Himalayan researcher reverses earlier findings of looming water shortage

One of the big unknowns of climate change predictions lies in knowing the future of water runoff from the Himalayas. The snow- and ice-rich region supplies water for billions of people in Asia and is sometimes referred to as the Earth's "Third Pole." For years, scientists struggled to understand how precipitation will change in these mountains. They have also had difficulty determining how much glacier melt from the mountains contributes to water supply. A study in Nature Geoscience by Walter Immerzeel, a physical geographer at Utrecht University, suggests that, in at least two major Himalayan watersheds, river flows and runoff should rise until 2100. "We show that the peak in meltwater is later than we previously thought, which in combination with a projected increase in precipitation results in an increase in water availability until the end of the century," he said. The two watersheds Immerzeel reports on in the paper are those of the Baltoro and Langtang glaciers, which feed the Indus and Ganges rivers, respectively. In the Baltoro watershed, this is largely due to more glacier runoff from melt. In the Langtang, increased precipitation drives the extra runoff. They found that in both watersheds, runoff from glaciers should increase until the 2040s or 2060s, later than previous estimates, depending on which climate scenarios are applied.

(TOP) ~ Scientists assert there is less weather variability, globally, than most people believe

Climate change is a broad and complicated topic, often too complicated for the average person. Instead, most of us get our grasp of climate change by looking out the window or stepping out the front door. It explains why many people in North America and Europe believe climate change is causing ever more drastic weather extremes. That may not be the case around the world, however, according to a recent study by a team of British scientists published in the journal Nature. While regions like North America and Europe have been experiencing greater temperature variability, wild shifts from extreme heat to extreme cold, some parts of the world have been seeing more consistent temperatures. When taken as a whole, global temperature variability has been nearly constant over the last 50 years. The study, which calculated the range of average global temperature by year using 50 years of data, sparked a ripple of discussion through the scientific community. The study smooths out a lot of variability that's really relevant for extreme weather events and the kind of changes and patterns that have been happening lately. The result, according to several scientists, is a misperception across the West that the weather extremes occurring there are occurring everywhere. The authors do identify one global trend in climate variability likely to pick up speed: a decrease in annual temperature variability.

(TOP) ~ The Chicago Council launches new website, Outrage and Inspire

The Chicago Council has launched a new website, which will feature Roger Thurow's 1,000 Days Project, telling the story of the vital importance of good nutrition and health from the beginning of a woman’s pregnancy to her child's second birthday. Follow Roger as he reports on global hunger, poverty, and food and nutrition security from the field, reporting from Guatemala, Uganda, India, and the US for the next 1,000 Days. The site will host videos and photos as well as key infographics, reports, and commentaries. Visit the website

(TOP) ~ Big animal extinction impoverishes soil

By about 10,000 years ago, nearly 100 species of large animals had been recently driven to extinction around the globe. This march of megafauna mortality coincides suspiciously with the arrival of another large animal in their vicinity: humans. Based on a study found in Nature Geoscience, this article looks at how the extinction of megafauna could lead to less fertile soils, particularly in the Amazon. Listen to the podcast

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

(TOP) ~ Assistance in NRCS Program Delivery

NRCS delivers conservation technical assistance through its voluntary Conservation Technical Assistance Program (CTA). Conservation technical assistance is the help provided to land users to address opportunities, concerns, and problems related to the use of natural resources to assist land users in making sound natural resource management decisions on private, tribal, and other non-federal lands. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is a voluntary conservation program that promotes agricultural production and environmental quality. Through EQIP farmers may receive financial and technical assistance to install or implement structural or management practices on eligible agricultural land. Deadline 23 Aug. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Missouri Conservation Programs Workshops and Projects

The NRCS State Office in Missouri is seeking to partner and support the efforts of natural resource conservation partners and to promote public awareness and implementation of Farm Bill activities, such as Conduct workshops, conferences and training that will help educate Missouri’s farm community, private landowners, conservation organizations, cooperating agencies and general citizenry. Deadline 27 Aug. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Conservation Innovative Grant - Maryland NRCS

The Maryland Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is announcing availability of Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) to stimulate the development and adoption of innovative conservation approaches and technologies. This notice announces the availability of up to $300,000 for support of this program in FY 2013. These funds are in addition to up to $25 million dollars of funds that may be available through the national CIG grants program. Deadline 21 Aug. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Agricultural Management Assistance Organic Certification Cost-Share Program

This Organic Certification Cost-Share Program is part of the Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA) Program authorized under the Federal Crop Insurance Act (FCIA), as amended, (7 U.S.C. 1524). Under the applicable FCIA provisions, the Department is authorized to provide cost-share assistance to organic producers in the States of Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Deadline 30 Aug. Read full announcement

Conferences, Meetings and Reports

(TOP) ~ U.S. farm production expenditures keep climbing

The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) reports that farmers spent a record-high $351.8 billion on agricultural production in 2012, a 10.4 percent increase from 2011. Per farm, the average expenditures totaled $162,743 compared with $146,653 in 2011, up 11 percent. On average, U.S. farm operations spent $27,338 on feed, $18,457 on farm services, $14,802 on livestock, poultry and related expenses, and $14,247 on labor. NASS notes that crop farms accounted for the majority of production expenditures in 2012. These expenditures totaled $200 billion, increasing 17.4 percent from 2011. Chemicals, fertilizers, and seeds cost crop farmers $55.5 billion last year, accounting for 27.8 percent of crop farms total expense. On the livestock side, farmers spent $152 billion, up 2.4 percent from 2011. The largest expenditure for livestock farms was feed, on which the producers spent $54.4 billion in 2012. Get more information

(TOP) ~ Renewable energy on farms study released

USDA has released a report which found that states with higher energy prices, more organic acres per farm, and more Internet connectivity adopt renewable electricity at higher rates. For solar systems, full-farm ownership and solar resources were also significant factors. Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) targets were found to increase state level renewable electricity adoption at the distributed-generation scale while electric cooperative prevalence in the state was found to have a negative relationship to renewable electricity adoption share. RPS require a minimum amount of renewable electricity sales, or generating capacity, that electricity utilities must achieve according to a specified schedule of dates and mandates. See full report

(TOP) ~ Scientists puzzle over the changing rate of emission from thawing permafrost

The rate at which the Arctic region releases massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere may hinge on the amount of water within thawing permafrost, according to a new study. The repercussions of the findings are broad: The polar region is warming faster than the rest of the globe, allowing long-stored carbon in soil to reach the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. About 50 percent of estimated below-ground organic carbon sits in Northern Hemisphere permafrost. But the new research suggests that the moisture level of thawed permafrost may be as important as warming itself in determining the speed of CO2 release. "What is going to be crucial is not whether the permafrost will thaw. It will probably thaw. What is going to be crucial is to understand its water content," said Bo Elberling, director of the Centre for Permafrost at University of Copenhagen and lead author of the study. The difference is stark enough that water-saturated permafrost may take centuries to decompose after thawing, while dry permafrost could spurt out the greenhouse gas in a few decades. That is true regardless of temperature, according to the scientists. "From a climate perspective, there's a big difference in whether carbon is released within 10 years or 100 years," Elberling said.

(TOP) ~ Traditional climate models neglect important soil carbon factors, study

The rate at which carbon escapes soils as a greenhouse gas relies on the number of carbon-digesting microbes in the ground, the tastiness of the carbon falling into the soil (like leaves) and the temperature, and these factors aren't included in the traditional Earth system models, said William Wieder, the lead author of a study on soil carbon pools published in Nature Climate Change. Soil carbon pools hold an estimated 2.2 trillion metric tons of carbon in the earth. "It might be time to revisit some of these assumptions," said Wieder. He and his colleagues have developed a microbial model that adds an extra dimension for measuring how carbon will cycle from the atmosphere to trees and vegetation, and then into the ground and back into the atmosphere. Using global maps of soil carbon pools, the researchers found that the new microbial model was almost twice as effective for predicting present-day soil carbon distribution as the models traditionally used in Earth system models, which scientists from various disciplines use to project future climate and carbon cycle interactions. Past models don't fully incorporate the effect of global warming on soil microbes, which expel more carbon as the temperature rises. Like humans, microbes can take in carbon food and either use it to grow their body size or expel it in the form of carbon dioxide, Wieder said.

(TOP) ~ Webinar: small-scale micro-irrigation design and components

Small-scale micro-irrigation is on the rise in the East region and producers are taking advantage of NRCS' programs to install micro-irrigation systems to enhance resource conservation, food security, produce quality, and rural livelihoods. Small-scale micro-irrigation systems are generally a fraction of an acre or a few acres in size that also include the smaller systems in high tunnels, gravity-fed irrigation, and community gardens. Regardless of how small the micro-irrigation system is, it must be planned, designed, installed, and maintained properly or the system will perform poorly or even fail. Get more information

(TOP) ~ NOAA report highlights climate change threats to nation’s estuaries

estuaryTemperature change exposure risk was greatest for estuarine research reserves located in the Great Lakes, Gulf of Mexico, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast regions of the country, while reserves in the Gulf of Mexico, parts of the Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, California, and Oregon showed the greatest risk of sea level rise exposure, according to a research report from the NOAA National Ocean Service. It notes that key underlying estuarine stressors were found to be toxic pollutants, storm impacts, invasive species, habitat fragmentation, sedimentation and shoreline erosion. The most frequently identified factors contributing to these stressors included residential development, land use, population growth, wastewater treatment and sea level rise. High social sensitivity to climate change was indicated where there is higher employment within natural resource-dependent industries, lower per capita income and median home values, higher percentages of minority populations, and a higher percentage of individuals lacking a high school education. See full report

Congressional/Administration News

(TOP) ~ Farm bill hits wall as lawmakers leave for August break

As lawmakers break for a five-week summer recess, negotiations over the farm bill's future have been dealt a blow with word that House leaders are considering doubling their proposed cut to the national food stamps program. In a speech to farm lobbyists, House Ag Chairman Frank Lucas confirmed that his GOP leaders could advance a nutrition bill in September that cuts as much as $40 billion over the next decade. The House, which has yet to name farm bill conferees, would then attempt to conference both that bill and its already-passed "farm only" bill with the Senate's comprehensive five-year farm bill. Democratic Agriculture leaders responded swiftly to the new plan, slamming it as unrealistic and warning that it could impede conference committee negotiations between the House and Senate versions of the bill. "We are in a situation where we can't negotiate because we don't know what the parameters of the bill are going to be. It's now put us in another situation it's going to make it harder to get a farm bill done," Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow said. Unlike the other differences, the wide gap in proposed cuts to food stamps may be too much for a conference committee to overcome. Lucas said he thought it may require some direction from the president.

(TOP) ~ Final letter on STEM education funding in House immigration bill

ASA, CSSA, and SSSA have signed onto a letter sent to the U.S. House of Representatives leaders urging the inclusion of a package of STEM education funding provisions in the House’s immigration reform package. Read full letter

(TOP) ~ USDA administration nomination confirmed

hardenKrysta L. Harden has been confirmed by the US Senate to serve as the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture. She is currently serving as the USDA Chief of Staff. She previously served as USDA Assistant Secretary for Congressional Relations as the Chief Executive Officer of the National Association of Conservation Districts [as] Senior Vice President of Gordley Associates, as Staff Director for the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture, Subcommittee on Peanuts and Tobacco and as Legislative Director, Chief of Staff, and Press Secretary for Congressman Charles Hatcher. She received her B.A. in Journalism from the University of Georgia. See more nominations

(TOP) ~ EPA finalizes 2013 renewable fuel standards

EPA has finalized the 2013 percentage standards for four fuel categories that are part of the RFS program established by Congress. The final 2013 overall volumes and standards require 16.55 billion gallons of renewable fuels to be blended into the U.S. fuel supply (a 9.74 percent blend). This standard specifically requires: Biomass-based diesel (1.28 billion gallons; 1.13 percent); Advanced biofuels (2.75 billion gallons; 1.62 percent); Cellulosic biofuels (6.00 million gallons; 0.004 percent). Most gasoline sold in the U.S. today is E10. In the rule issued, EPA is announcing that it will propose to use flexibilities in the RFS statute to reduce both the advanced biofuel and total renewable volumes in the forthcoming 2014 RFS volume requirement proposal [due to] the 'E10 blend wall' which is projected to occur in 2014 and refers to the difficulty in incorporating ethanol into the fuel supply at volumes exceeding those achieved by the sale of nearly all gasoline as E10. See the news release

(TOP) ~ Republican former heads of EPA publicly support Obama's action plan

As Capitol Hill Republicans prepare to make the case to their constituents over the August recess that President Obama's Climate Action Plan will ruin the U.S. economy, four former U.S. EPA administrators from their party wrote in an editorial that the plan would "ensure a strong economy along with a livable climate." Former Administrators William Ruckelshaus, Lee Thomas, William Reilly and Christine Todd Whitman, who all served under Republican presidents, praised Obama in a New York Times op-ed piece for directing their former agency to regulate carbon dioxide from new and existing power plants under the Clean Air Act. Read full article

Sources: The Chicago Council on Global Affairs; Climatewire; Energy and Environment Daily; Food Industry Environmental Network, LLC; New York Times; Scientific American; UN Food and Agriculture Organization; USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service; USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

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.