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Science Policy Report

Address all comments to the Science Policy Office at:
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Note: Due to the Congressional recess, there will be no Science Policy Report on August 24. The next SPR will be posted on September 7.

Thank you, The Science Policy Office team.

11 September 2013

In This Issue:

International Corner

~ Farmers struggle to adopt climate-smart methods
~ As heat wave continues to bake East Asia, study says extreme heat may become the norm
~ Indian farmers adapt to falling water tables and unpredictable rains
~ Network of large and smaller dams is best for South African crops, study
~ US and UK scientists collaborate to design crops of the future
~ African opposition to GM crops 'a farce'

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ U.S. Borlaug Fellows Graduate Research Grant
~ National Pesticide Information Center Cooperative Agreement
~ Energy for Sustainability
~ Innovation Corps Teams Program
~ Critical Zone Observatory National Office
~ 2013 Research Call for Proposals
~ Developing New and Evaluating Sector-based Best Management Practices Efficiencies
~ Developing and Evaluating Existing Source Sector-based Best Management Practices
~ Southern SARE On-Farm Research Grant Call for Proposals Released
~ Organic Farming Research Foundation
~ Arctic Research Opportunities

Conferences, Meetings and Reports

~ Scientists call for improved understanding of how climate extremes alter carbon cycle
~ Advisory committee on climate change and natural resource science; meeting notice
~ Agency information collection activities: comment request
~ USDA study hints at possible links between soil characteristics and stroke risk
~ USDA releases climate change report, seeks comments
~ Farmers reduced sediment loss through voluntary conservation
~ Call for Abstracts, 9th National Monitoring Conference

Congressional/Administration News

~ Sign the STEM education petition
~ Farm Bill update: not much action on the main attraction
~ Submission for OMB review; comment request
~ National Science Foundation taps K-State to lead new wheat research center
~ EPA Administrator vows to build productive, trusting relationship with farmers
~ Research chief retires after 46 years with agency

International Corner


(TOP) ~ Farmers struggle to adopt climate-smart methods

climate smart methodsThe UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has published preliminary results from a project aimed at helping Malawi, Vietnam and Zambia make the transition to a 'climate-smart' approach to agriculture. Launched in January 2012, the 5.3-million euros three-year FAO-EC project promotes a climate-smart agriculture approach in each country, with supporting activities ranging from research to policy support and investment proposals. FAO notes that agriculture and the communities who depend on it for their livelihoods and food security are highly vulnerable to climate change impacts. At the same time agriculture, as a significant producer of greenhouse gases, contributes to global warming. 'Climate-smart agriculture' is an approach that seeks to position the agricultural sector as a solution to these major challenges, prioritizing food security and the adaptation needed to achieve it, while reaping potential mitigation co-benefits. Read full article


(TOP) ~ As heat wave continues to bake East Asia, study says extreme heat may become the norm

As the heat wave in East Asia drags on, hospitalizing thousands in Japan and straining power resources in South Korea, a new study by European climate researchers predicts that today's unusually high temperatures may become tomorrow's normal summer weather for many regions across the globe. Published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, the paper projects that heat waves will become far more common by 2040, even if humans manage to drastically reduce carbon dioxide emissions before then. Beyond 2040, however, the possibility of the further increase of heat waves is "strongly dependent" on whether or not emissions are reduced, the study states. "Still, with reducing CO2 emissions, we can reduce the amount of heat extremes very strongly by the end of the century, and this will avoid impacts to both society and the ecosystems," said lead author Dim Coumou, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. "Until that time, regions around the world will have to adapt to more extreme heat waves."


(TOP) ~ Indian farmers adapt to falling water tables and unpredictable rains

Farmers in India's Gujarat region are coping with monsoon rains that they say have become increasingly unpredictable over the past two decades. Agricultural production is heavily dependent on the quality of monsoon rains, which arrive for about four months each year. The changing timing and amount of the rains are making it difficult for farmers to decide which crops to plant for the highest yields. Some studies predict up to a 40 percent decline in global crop yields in the coming decades. Most farmers in India are smallholder farmers. They own less than 5 acres of land, have little access to technology and face dwindling water supplies for irrigation. Many farmers in the region say that if rains arrive on time, they plant cotton because it is the most lucrative cash crop in the region. If there is a delay in rains, farmers switch to castor, which is more drought-resistant. The region's groundwater is also experiencing overpumping from irrigation, and farmers are digging deeper and deeper wells to find water sources. Water tables are now 600 to 800 feet below ground. When asked how long groundwater reserves can supply fields, most farmers say five to six years. Check out the video


(TOP) ~ Network of large and smaller dams is best for South African crops, study

Large dams in South Africa could be hurting local agricultural gains but improving crop growth farther downstream, a study suggests. The World Bank published a working paper recently that finds that larger dams diminish productivity nearby. Nevertheless, large dams play an important role and can enhance the efficiency and impact of smaller dams. While small dams cause relatively small environmental impacts, large dams can store more, operate at a lower cost per unit and lose less water through evaporation. Using satellite images, the researchers observed how well crops grew in certain water drainage areas of South Africa. They found that the presence of small dams within a basin significantly improved crop productivity. Larger dams could boost that productivity further, but only for crops located downstream from them. South Africa operates the largest number of dams on the African continent. While the study doesn't directly address why large dams contribute to considerable losses in productivity, past studies indicate that big dams increase the risks of high-salinity soils as water is limited, diversion of water from existing agricultural dams and other examples of environmental damage. See the paper


(TOP) ~ US and UK scientists collaborate to design crops of the future

Four teams of researchers in the United States and the United Kingdom recently were awarded more than $12 million to begin a program of novel research to revolutionize current farming methods by giving crops the ability to thrive without using costly, polluting artificial fertilizers. The four highly innovative projects encompass: an effort to use synthetic biology to create new useful components for plants; a global search for a mysterious lost bacterium with significant unique functions; work to engineer beneficial relationships between plants and microbes; and an effort to mimic ingenious strategies employed by blue-green algae. Read full article


(TOP) ~ African opposition to GM crops 'a farce'

Concern in Africa over genetically modified crops has been dismissed as fear of the unknown by an environmental group chaired by Kofi Annan, the former U.N. secretary-general. A report by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) describes opposition to GM crops as "a farce." It points out that such crops are subject to more testing worldwide than new non-modified varieties. Four African countries (Burkina Faso, Egypt, Sudan and South Africa) have fully commercialized GM crops. Most African countries have put in place the requisite policy and regulatory frameworks, despite growing public jitters over genetically modified food. "There is growing public opposition to GM crops in Africa that is best described as a fear of the unknown," AGRA's "Africa Agricultural Status Report" states. Unless milled, the import of GM foods is banned in Angola, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, the report adds. AGRA is an independent organization based in Kenya that aims to double the income of 20 million small farmers and reduce food insecurity by 50 percent in 20 countries by 2020. Critics of the group accuse it of showing its true colors after initial coyness over GM foods.

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities


(TOP) ~ U.S. Borlaug Fellows Graduate Research Grant

The U.S. Borlaug Fellows in Global Food Security graduate research grant supports exceptional graduate students who are interested in developing a component of their graduate research in a developing country setting and in collaboration with a mentor from an International Agricultural Research Center (IARC) or a qualifying National Agricultural Research System (NARS) unit. U.S. citizenship is required, and applicants must be enrolled in an accredited U.S. graduate program at the time of application. Deadline 11 Nov. Read full announcement


(TOP) ~ National Pesticide Information Center Cooperative Agreement

EPA is accepting grant funding applications for a cooperative agreement to support the NPIC by providing objective, science-based information on a wide variety of pesticide-related subjects to anyone within the United States and its territories and supports public health surveillance of pesticide exposures. Deadline 30 Sep. Read full announcement


(TOP) ~ Energy for Sustainability

This program supports fundamental research and education that will enable innovative processes for the sustainable production of electricity and transportation fuels. Processes for sustainable energy production must be environmentally benign, reduce greenhouse gas production, and utilize renewable resources. Deadline 20 Feb. Read full announcement


(TOP) ~ Innovation Corps Teams Program

The National Science Foundation (NSF) seeks to develop and nurture a national innovation ecosystem that builds upon fundamental research to guide the output of scientific discoveries closer to the development of technologies, products and processes that benefit society. In order to jumpstart a national innovation ecosystem, NSF has established the NSF Innovation Corps Teams Program (NSF I-Corps Teams). Get more information


(TOP) ~ Critical Zone Observatory National Office

This solicitation calls for proposals to establish a Critical Zone Observatory National Office (CZO-NO) to facilitate activities of the network of Critical Zone Observatories (CZO). The CZO-NO will facilitate coordination of research and educational programs of the CZO network and provide a centralized entity, which will represent the CZO network with the scientific community and the public. Read full announcement


(TOP) ~ 2013 Research Call for Proposals

GCSAA invites you to submit a proposal to the Chapter Cooperative Research Grant Program. This program is made possible through a grant from the Environmental Institute for Golf. The purpose of this program is to collaborate with GCSAA chapters by providing matching funds for applied, problem-solving research and promote the use of best management practices and new technology that will advance the sustainability of golf facilities. The goal is to fund research that is relevant, problem solving and can be applied immediately by superintendents at the golf facilities they manage. Deadline 11 Oct. Read full announcement


(TOP) ~ Developing New and Evaluating Sector-based Best Management Practices Efficiencies

This RFP is seeking cost-effective proposals from eligible applicants for developing or revising the technical basis for nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment load reduction values; efficiencies for new or existing best management practices (BMPs); or other pollutant-load reduction/prevention treatments or technologies within the Chesapeake Bay region. These practices may be specific to a particular land use such as urban, agricultural, mined, or forested land; applied to stream and river banks and tidal shorelines; applied directly to free-flowing streams and rivers; or applied directly to the tidal waters of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries and embayments. Deadline 19 Sep. Read full announcement


(TOP) ~ Developing and Evaluating Existing Source Sector-based Best Management Practices

EPA is accepting grant funding applications for developing or revising the technical basis for nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment load reduction values or efficiencies for new or existing nutrient and sediment controls or other pollutant load reduction/prevention treatments or technologies within the Chesapeake Bay region. These practices may be specific to a particular land use such as urban, agricultural, mined, or forested land; applied to stream, river banks, and tidal shorelines; applied directly to free-flowing streams and rivers; or applied directly to the tidal waters of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries and embayments. Deadline 19 Sep. Read full announcement


(TOP) ~ Southern SARE On-Farm Research Grant Call for Proposals Released

The Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) is seeking grant funding proposals in the following priority areas: 1) beneficial insect habitat; 2) alternative crops/animals; 3) organic agriculture; 4) sustainable marketing projects; 5) sustainable grazing systems; 6) soil organic matter building/protection management; 7) increasing sustainability of existing farming practices; 8) appropriate technology; and 9) agroforestry. Deadline 18 Nov. Read full announcement


(TOP) ~ Organic Farming Research Foundation

The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) is pleased to announce that funding is available for: Research projects on organic farming and food systems and Education and Outreach projects on organic farming and food systems. OFRF accepts proposals via electronic submission. Deadline 15 Nov. Get more information


(TOP) ~ Arctic Research Opportunities

The National Science Foundation (NSF) invites investigators at U.S. organizations to submit proposals to conduct research about the Arctic. Arctic research includes field and modeling studies, data analysis, and synthesis about the arctic region. The goal of the NSF Section for Arctic Sciences, Division of Polar Programs (PLR), is to gain a better understanding of the Arctic's physical, biological, geological, chemical, social and cultural processes; the interactions of oceanic, terrestrial, atmospheric, biological, social, cultural, and economic systems; and the connections that define the Arctic. The Arctic Sciences and other NSF programs support projects that contribute to the development of the next generation of researchers and scientific literacy for all ages through education, outreach, and broadening participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Program representatives from polar and other non-polar NSF programs that support arctic research coordinate across NSF, including joint review and funding of arctic proposals and mutual support of special projects with high logistical costs. Read full announcement

Conferences, Meetings and Reports


(TOP) ~ Scientists call for improved understanding of how climate extremes alter carbon cycle

carbon cyclesThe forests, grasslands and soils that cover the Earth's surface have soaked up about 25 to 30 percent of human emissions of carbon dioxide in the last 50 years. But as the climate changes, how well will these ecosystems continue to do this? That's a question posed in a perspective paper published online in the journal Nature. Markus Reichstein, an Earth systems scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry and lead author of the paper, says there is considerable uncertainty about how carbon storage in terrestrial ecosystems might change as the climate changes. Researchers already know that extreme events can have a big negative effect on carbon storage. In fact, every year, as a result of extreme weather events, ecosystems store 11 billion tons less carbon dioxide than they otherwise might. Get more information


(TOP) ~ Advisory committee on climate change and natural resource science; meeting notice

U.S. Geological Survey is announcing that the Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science (ACCCNRS) has scheduled a public meeting for September 18 and 19, 2013 in Washington, DC. The objectives of this meeting are to: (1) provide ACCCNRS Members with working understanding of the USGS National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center and the DOI Climate Science Centers [CSCs]; (2) provide an overview of other federal climate science services and programs; (3) review the Committee’s charge, scope, operating procedures, and ground rules; (4) review and solicit Committee input on the CSCs and NCCWSC approach to science and stakeholder engagement; and (5) define an agenda for future Committee meetings. The CSCs provide scientific information, tools and techniques that land, water, wildlife and cultural resource managers and other interested parties can apply to anticipate, monitor and adapt to climate and ecologically-driven responses at regional-to-local scales. Get more information


(TOP) ~ Agency information collection activities: comment request

The U.S. Geological Survey is seeking public comments on the paperwork and regulatory burdens associated with a proposed registry which will collect information on existing assessments of the vulnerability of various resources and societal assets to climate change. This information will include organization conducting the study, its location, the topical focus of the assessment, methodology and supporting data used, and point of contact information. Because many governmental and nongovernmental parties are conducting such assessments, and because their conclusions, methodologies, and related data assets may be of interest or utility to others contemplating such assessments, the USGS will make the information collected available on the Web in the form of a simple registry-type database. Users, including the general public, scientists, resource management agencies, and others will be able to search the database by various keywords of interest. Get more information


(TOP) ~ USDA study hints at possible links between soil characteristics and stroke risk

A preliminary study by U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers and colleagues suggests that in some parts of South Carolina, the risk of stroke may be linked in part to regional soil characteristics. These findings could provide new leads for investigating factors associated with the incidence of stroke. The research was conducted by Medical University of South Carolina professor Daniel Lackland and Agricultural Research Service (ARS) research leader Patrick Hunt, microbiologist Thomas Ducey, and soil scientist Jarrod Miller. To identify associations between stroke risk and soil characteristics, the scientists compared 10 years of South Carolina inpatient and emergency room discharge data to information in a state soil database. They found significant correlations between stroke rates, soil depth to water, and soil drainage class. Findings from this research were published in 2012 in The Journal of Environmental Science and Health. Get more information


(TOP) ~ USDA releases climate change report, seeks comments

The Climate Change Program Office of the Agriculture Department’s Office of the Chief Economist released a report that outlines scientific methods for quantifying greenhouse gas emissions and carbon storage on farms and ranches and in forests. Public comment is requested on the report, which is called “Science-Based Methods for Entity-Scale Quantification of Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks from Agriculture and Forestry Practices”. The report is the work of 38 scientists from across academia, USDA and the federal government, who are experts in greenhouse gas (GHG) estimation in the cropland, grazing land, livestock and forest management sectors, USDA said. The report has undergone technical review by an additional 29 scientists. “It is important that the methods exhibit scientific rigor, transparency, completeness, accuracy, and cost effectiveness, as well as consistency and comparability with other USDA GHG inventory efforts,” the department said. The Federal Register Notice provides detailed instructions for submitting comments, which must be received by October 11, 2013. Read full report and Submit comments
 


(TOP) ~ Farmers reduced sediment loss through voluntary conservation

Farmers in the lower Mississippi River basin have been able to fight back against sediment and nutrient loss through voluntary conservation work, according to a new Department of Agriculture report. By doing things like controlling erosion and managing nutrients, farmers have been able to cut edge-of-field losses of sediment by 35 percent, the report found. Losses of nitrogen dropped by 21 percent and phosphorus by 52 percent. At the same time, the report highlights the need for additional conservation work: It found that farmers in the region need to better control surface water runoff and improve how they use nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. See full report
 


(TOP) ~ Call for Abstracts, 9th National Monitoring Conference

Join us for Working Together for Clean Water, the National Water Quality Monitoring Council’s (NWQMC) 9th National Monitoring Conference, to be held in Cincinnati, Ohio from April 28-May 2, 2014. This conference focuses on the many facets of water quality and quantity monitoring for improved understanding, protection, and restoration of our natural resources and communities. This centerpiece forum attracts 800 - 1,000 water practitioners from all backgrounds, including federal, state, local, tribal, volunteer, academic, private, and other water stakeholders. Attendees exchange information about water monitoring, assessment, research, protection, restoration, and management; learn about new findings on the quality of the Nation's streams and rivers, groundwater, estuaries, lakes and wetlands; and develop new skills and professional networks. The conference includes presentations, panels, poster sessions, exhibits, hands-on interactive workshops, field trips and Fluid 5K run, as well as time for after-hours meetings and networking. Abstract deadline 20 Sep. Get more information

Congressional/Administration News


(TOP) ~ Sign the STEM education petition

stemEncourage Congress to recognize the importance of STEM education by passing House Resolution 276 (H.R. 276) that supports the goals of the USA Science & Engineering Festival and names the last week of April 2014 as "National Science Week."  Sign the petition


(TOP) ~ Farm Bill update: not much action on the main attraction

Farm leaders are meeting with constituents back home during the August recess, occasionally offering their thoughts on the likely farm bill end game but few details on a firm path to completion for the vital legislation. Both House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) have met with farmers recently to explain the political situation in Washington, D.C., reiterating the uncertain plan for the House to take up a nutrition-only bill, likely with $40 billion in cuts to the food stamp program, as soon as Congress returns. Both men have indicated tepid support for a two-year extension if a new, comprehensive bill cannot be written. For her part, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) reiterated that the farm bill would get done this year, though it might be pushed past the Sept. 30 deadline. Any talk of extension remains a non-starter in the Senate.


(TOP) ~ Submission for OMB review; comment request

The USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) is seeking public comments on the paperwork and regulatory associated with the regulations which authorize the International Procurement Division to procure, sell, and transport, as well as sample, inspect and survey, agricultural commodities at both domestic and foreign locations for use in international food aid program. Commodity vendors under contract are required to submit Advance Shipping Notifications so that receivers of these commodities within the U.S. can arrange for their timely lifting for transport overseas via ocean-going vessels. See full announcement


(TOP) ~ National Science Foundation taps K-State to lead new wheat research center

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has named Kansas State University as its lead institution for the world’s first Industry/University Cooperative Research Center on wheat.  This center is the first NSF-established center for any crop plant, though others exist for engineering and electronics projects. It will focus on improving food production and disease resistance in wheat in addition to training wheat scientists. The center will be split between K-State and Colorado State University, with Dr. Bikram Gill, K-State’s distinguished professor of plant pathology and director of the university’s Wheat Genetics Research Center, will serve as the director of the NSF center. Read full article


(TOP) ~ EPA Administrator vows to build productive, trusting relationship with farmers

The new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Gina McCarthy, has been on the job barely a month but appears to already be reaching out to farmers. The Des Moines Register reported recently that McCarthy visited the Iowa State Fair and promised to build a “stronger, more productive, more trusting relationship between EPA and the agriculture community” by the end of her term. McCarthy’s speech was reportedly met with applause from the farmers in attendance, who often find regulations from the Agency to be out-of-touch with their business practices in addition to confusing and costly. NAWG and NAWG-affiliated state associations look forward to continued work with EPA officials to share information about the realities of modern farming by bringing farmers to D.C. and EPA officials to farms, like with the North Dakota Grain Growers Association’s annual “e-tours.”


(TOP) ~ Research chief retires after 46 years with agency

The head of the Agriculture Department's research agency is retiring after 46 years at USDA. Edward Knipling, who has overseen the Agricultural Research Service since 2004, is known for his work on plant breeding and disease resistance. Funded at $1.074 billion this year and employing 2,000 scientists, the agency has a broad agenda that runs from nutrition to climate change. "He has created an environment in which science can flourish and researchers can innovate to address the nation's most pressing issues," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement today lauding Knipling's accomplishments. "Under his leadership, ARS has developed a globally recognized program of breeding and genetics for plants and animals." Knipling joined the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in 1968 as a research plant physiologist. In 1996, Knipling was appointed acting administrator for ARS when then-Administrator Floyd Horn took a year to serve as USDA's acting deputy undersecretary for research, education and economics. Knipling served in that acting position until 1997, when he was appointed associate administrator of the service. He again served as acting administrator in 2001 and took over as administrator in July 2004.

Sources: Agricultural Research Service; Climatewire; Food Industry Environmental Network, LLC; Greenwire; National Association of Wheat Growers; National Science Foundation; The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); U.S. Geological Survey; National Geographic; National Water Quality Monitoring Council; Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education

Vision: The Societies Washington, DC Science Policy Office (SPO) will advocate the importance and value of the agronomic, crop and soil sciences in developing national science policy and ensuring the necessary public-sector investment in the continued health of the environment for the well being of humanity. The SPO will assimilate, interpret, and disseminate in a timely manner to Society members information about relevant agricultural, natural resources and environmental legislation, rules and regulations under consideration by Congress and the Administration.

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.