Science Policy Report

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25 September 2013

In This Issue:

International Corner

~ Scientists lay out possible farming responses to climate change
~ Scientists create world map showing areas most susceptible to climate change
~ USAID is improving coordination but needs to require assessments of country-level risks
~ Three countries serve as 'pioneers' in ethanol policies
~ Take mosaic approach to agriculture, boost support for small farmers
~ U.S. funding for developing countries to address climate change
~ Future of organic farming highlight demand for stricter rules at EU level

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Grant Program
~ Energy for Sustainability
~ FY 2014 National Environmental Information Exchange Network
~ USAID Agriculture Development and Value Chain Enhancement Feed the Future Activity
~ India-Africa Agriculture Innovation Bridge Program
~ National Pesticide Information Center
~ Technical Assistance and Support for Improved Protection of Drinking Water Sources

Conferences, Meetings and Reports

~ Climate change to pose new challenges for already-stressed Western watersheds
~ Misgivings about how a weed killer affects the soil
~ Research funding and skills key to food for post-2015
~ Walmart sustainability initiatives, including reducing fertilizer use in agriculture
~ Standing up for GMOs

Congressional/Administration News

~ FY 2014 Appropriations update
~ Ready for a rewrite of House approps bill
~ U.S. Bioenergy Statistics
~ USDA announces request for public input on agricultural coexistence
~ NOAA satellites still facing problems, GAO reports
~ House passes nutrition bill with huge SNAP cuts
~ More than 100 House members urge leaders to link conservation, subsidies
~ House Agriculture: searching for the future of food

International Corner

(TOP) ~ Scientists lay out possible farming responses to climate change

Experts attending a major agricultural conference in Sydney say big changes will need to be made to farming practices to help offset global warming. They say global warming is expected to create drought hot spots in parts of Africa and Australia, while more floods would damage agricultural land in Asia. More than 1,000 delegates are attending the International Grassland Congress in Sydney, a meeting that takes place only every four years, and they have heard that reducing the carbon footprint of global agriculture is just one challenge. Jimmy Smith, head of the International Livestock Research Institute, says the more immediate question is how to feed the world's booming population. "Estimates show that between now and 2050 the world will need to produce about 1 billion tons more cereal, and about half of that would be used for livestock feed and the other half for human consumption," he said. "Much of that increase would have to come from increases in productivity, because the suitable land for agriculture has largely been used." Smith said the focus must now shift from large-scale agriculture to the small-scale farmers who dominate in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. "We need to connect more of them to markets," he said. "By doing so, we allow them to contribute more effectively to aggregate food supply.”

(TOP) ~ Scientists create world map showing areas most susceptible to climate change

climate change mapA new world map created by scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society, the University of Queensland and Stanford University shows which regions are most vulnerable to climate change. The map, created using data about the world's ecosystems and projections on the effects of climate change, seeks to help governments, environmental agencies and donors target their investments in conservation efforts. The map is part of a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change. Northern and southwestern Africa, northern Australia, and southern South America are shown to be the least vulnerable regions in the world. Most vulnerable are parts of South Asia, Southeast Asia, Western and Central Europe, eastern South America, and southern Australia. Ecosystems with highly intact vegetation and high relative climate stability are the best locations for future protected areas because these regions have the best chance of retaining species, the study said. Read article

(TOP) ~ USAID is improving coordination but needs to require assessments of country-level risks

Additional Risk Assessments of Host Governments Needed, according to a report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) which found that through the whole-of-government approach for the Feed the Future (FTF) initiative that began in 2010, USAID is better coordinating and integrating partner agencies' knowledge and expertise. USAID has facilitated a country-led approach by providing assistance to the host governments in developing country plans and coordinating on FTF with country stakeholders, including nonprofit and for-profit organizations. However, GAO's current study found that USAID's FTF multiyear country strategies did not systematically assess risks to the country-led approach. Read full report

(TOP) ~ Three countries serve as 'pioneers' in ethanol policies

What do Brazil, Malawi and Sweden have in common? They are all "pioneers" in developing a lasting infrastructure for biofuels, a new study says, and their programs could serve as models for countries looking to boost their own production. The birth of biofuels policy in all three of the countries is rooted in the 1970s OPEC oil crisis, when record-high petroleum prices encouraged consumers worldwide to cut down on gasoline. But once oil prices stabilized, Brazil, Malawi and Sweden continued their programs for very different reasons. Sweden's development focused on air quality, Brazil went for agro-industrial development, and as for Malawi, they have needed to stay on because of energy security. See full study

(TOP) ~ Take mosaic approach to agriculture, boost support for small farmers

Farming in rich and poor nations alike should shift from monoculture towards greater varieties of crops, reduced use of fertilizers and other inputs, greater support for small-scale farmers, and more locally focused production and consumption of food, a new UNCTAD report recommends. The Trade and Environment Report 2013 warns that continuing rural poverty, persistent hunger around the world, growing populations, and mounting environmental concerns must be treated as a collective crisis. It says that urgent and far-reaching action is needed before climate change begins to cause major disruptions to agriculture, especially in developing countries. Read full article

(TOP) ~ U.S. funding for developing countries to address climate change

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a report which found that the overall effectiveness of U.S. fast-start finance (FSF) (a funding pledge made under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) activities is difficult to determine because of the challenges involved in monitoring and evaluating assistance to address climate change. GAO notes that as part of the United States' FSF commitment, the Department of State (State) reported that the U.S. contributed $7.5 billion in fiscal years 2010 through 2012 for a variety of activities related to climate change. During this period, State improved its method for collecting data for its FSF reports, but it is uncertain how it will meet future reporting requirements and guidelines. USAID, the largest FSF contributor, is not able to track climate change obligations and expenditures because of the lack of a dedicated State/USAID budget code for climate change assistance. Read full report

(TOP) ~ Future of organic farming highlight demand for stricter rules at EU level

Results of a public consultation on the future of organic farming have been released by the European Commission's Directorate General for Agriculture and Rural Development which found that consumers trust organic products (71 %), that they buy them mainly out of concern about the environment (83%), and because they are free from GMOs and pesticide residues (81%). The vast majority (78%) also indicated that they were prepared to pay more for organic goods. The report also shows a very strong demand for harmonized rules at EU level, with 74 % of all respondents requesting European organic standard to be strengthened and 86% wishing organic rules to be uniform across the EU. The majority of respondents (65%) from all countries requested the opening of the non-EU markets to EU organic products. According to 72% of the respondents, the most relevant objective for the EU negotiations trade agreements for organic products was to support the development of more sustainable and eco-friendly agricultural practices in other countries. The second objective of great significance to respondents was to encourage organic farmers and other operators from developing countries to expand their production and exports of organic products (52 %). Read full article

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

(TOP) ~ Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Grant Program

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) 2014 Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Grant Program. Competitive grants for up to $25,000 are awarded to individuals or groups for on-farm sustainable agriculture research or demonstration projects in Minnesota. The purpose of the Grant Program is to fund practices that promote environmental stewardship and conservation of resources as well as improve profitability and quality of life on farms and in rural areas. Deadline January 2014. 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. Also, it is important to address why the proposed work is important in terms of engineering science, as well as to also project the potential impact on society and /or industry of success in the research. The novelty or potentially transformative nature of the research should be included, as a minimum, in the Project Summary of each proposal. The duration of unsolicited awards is typically three years. Deadline 20 Mar. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ FY 2014 National Environmental Information Exchange Network

The Exchange Network Grant Program provides funding to states, tribes, inter-tribal consortia and territories to develop and implement the information technology and information management capabilities they need to actively participate in the Exchange Network. This grant program supports the exchange of environmental data and collaborative work within the Exchange Network. Grantees will share work products with all EN partners through EPA’s Reusable Component Services (RCS) database. Deadline 8 Nov. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ USAID Agriculture Development and Value Chain Enhancement Feed the Future Activity

The USAID Agricultural Development and Value Chain Enhancement Feed the Future Activity is a follow on to the current Feed the Future Agricultural Development and Value Chain Enhancement activity. This activity will be the primary mechanism for value chain support under USAID/Ghana’s Feed the Future (FtF) strategy, with the objective of developing sustainable, private sector driven agricultural transformation that will increase rural household incomes. Please refer to the Program Description for a complete statement of goals and expected results. The authority for the RFA is found in the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended. Deadline 28 Oct. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ India-Africa Agriculture Innovation Bridge Program

The purpose of this Annual Program Statement (APS) is to invite applicants to propose the sharing of proven Indian agriculture innovations in Kenya, Liberia, and Malawi, which are the USAID Feed the Future focus countries in Africa. The APS is open for submission of concept papers until Dec 30, 2013 with four rounds of concept paper submissions on a quarterly basis. Concept papers received until the deadlines provided on the cover page of the APS will be evaluated by USAID to decide which of these warrant an invitation to submit a full application. At the discretion of USAID, concept papers received after the first round of evaluations may be considered on a rolling basis or as a part of another round of evaluations. The process will be repeated for all concept papers received up to Dec 30, 2013. Submission instructions for the concept papers and full application are provided in Section III of the APS. USAID does not guarantee that any award shall be made against this APS. Deadline 30 Dec. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ National Pesticide Information Center

EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) is soliciting applications for an assistance agreement to support the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC), a program intended to advance the provision of objective, science-based information on a wide variety of pesticide-related subjects to anyone within the United States and its Territories, while collecting data on potential pesticide incidents to more fully support national pesticide surveillance systems. Deadline 30 Sep. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Technical Assistance and Support for Improved Protection of Drinking Water Sources

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is soliciting applications from eligible applicants for technical assistance and support that will enhance communication and coordination between the EPA and the states1 to protect drinking water sources. The technical assistance and support should develop and expand the capability of state and tribal Underground Injection Control (UIC) programs (Classes I-VI) and state and tribal source water protection programs to protect drinking water sources. Funds awarded under this announcement may be used by recipients to promote participation in meetings that improve the ability to protect drinking water sources and to support the travel expenses of non-federal personnel to attend appropriate meetings. Deadline 7 Oct. Read full announcement

Conferences, Meetings and Reports

(TOP) ~ Climate change to pose new challenges for already-stressed Western watersheds

A recent national water survey backed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Union of Concerned Scientists shows that for almost one in 10 U.S. watersheds, the current demand outstrips the natural supply, and that most of America's watershed stress is concentrated in the western half of the country. Although concerning, the finding was not a surprise for the experts who wrote the paper. Many of the stressed watersheds they identified, particularly those in the western half of the contiguous U.S., are already facing the reality of increasingly limited water supplies. But the authors also found that the strained watersheds may be more vulnerable to climate change than they had previously thought. See full paper

(TOP) ~ Misgivings about how a weed killer affects the soil

weed killerThere is a battle being waged over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the United States. On one side are the regulators and scientists who say biotech crops are no different from their conventional cousins, and, on the other, are those that worry the crops are damaging the environment and human health. It’s a battle being waged at the polls, in courtrooms, and on supermarket shelves. Now, some farmers are also taking a closer look at their soil. Glyphosate, first patented by Monsanto in 1974, revolutionized farming by making it easier and cheaper to grow crops. Along with its exponential growth and pervasive use, however, came the rise of so-called superweeds, and impacts to soil health. Some studies have shown that glyphosate competes with plants for essential nutrients, or can alter the mix of bacteria and fungi that interact with plant nutrient systems. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Research funding and skills key to food for post-2015

A new report, published by the Sustainable Development Solution Network (SDSN)’s group on agriculture and food systems, says public spending on agricultural research must double in the next decade if the world is to successfully move to sustainable methods of food production. The SDSN was launched last year by the United Nations. The network’s thematic groups released the agriculture report, along with others on issues including health, natural resource management, and ecosystem services and biodiversity. The reports serve as major input by scientists toward a new set of global development goals to replace the Millennium Development Goals in 2015. See full report

(TOP) ~ Walmart sustainability initiatives, including reducing fertilizer use in agriculture

The company highlighted its progress with the Sustainability Index, a measurement system used to track the environmental impact of products. The Index has been rolled out across 200 product categories, and to more than 1,000 suppliers. By the end of this year, Walmart expects the Index will expand to include more than 300 product categories and as many as 5,000 suppliers. The company also outlined five major initiatives where it can use its size and scale to help address 'hot spots' and accelerate progress in supply chain sustainability: [1] Increasing the Use of Recycled Materials; [2] Offering Products with Greener Chemicals [beginning with begin with household cleaning, personal care, beauty and cosmetic products]; [3] Reducing Fertilizer Use in Agriculture [by requiring suppliers who use commodity grains, such as corn, wheat and soy in their products, to develop a fertilizer optimization plan that outlines clear goals to improve performance based on Index research]; [4] Expanding the Sustainability Index to International Markets; [5] Improving Energy Efficiency. Read full story

(TOP) ~ Standing up for GMOs

In this editorial, in the journal Science, 11 prominent scientists note that the August destruction of Golden Rice field trials in the Philippines was billed as an uprising by farmers, but was actually carried out by protesters trucked in overnight. The global scientific community, they say, condemned the destruction of these trials. “If ever there was a clear-cut cause for outrage,” the scientists write, “it is the concerted campaign by Greenpeace and other nongovernmental organizations, as well as by individuals, against Golden Rice.” Golden Rice took, they add, “25 years to develop and test varieties that express sufficient quantities of the precursor that a few ounces of cooked rice can provide enough β-carotene to eliminate the morbidity and mortality of vitamin A deficiency. But the anti-GMO fever still burns brightly, fanned by electronic gossip and well-organized fear-mongering that profits some individuals and organizations. Read full article

Congressional/Administration News

(TOP) ~ FY 2014 Appropriations update

house floorA short-term Continuing Resolution (H J Res 59) has been approved on a vote of 230 to 189 by the full US House of Representatives which funds the US Federal Government through December 15, 2013. Since House Republicans attached a provision to the bill to defund the Affordable Care Act, news reports suggest that the bill has no chance of approval in the Democratic-controlled Senate and it faces a veto threat from Obama. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Ready for a rewrite of House approps bill

Senate Democrats are set to rewrite a stopgap spending bill pushed through the House by Republicans last week, likely forcing a series of showdown votes later this week over whether or not to force a government shutdown when the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev, said the $986.2 billion House measure that would keep government funding through Dec. 15 and eliminate funding for the 2010 health is a non-starter. Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., said she would advance a straightforward spending bill at current levels without what she called “ideological” additions. The White House supports that strategy, arguing a short-term continuing resolution at current funding levels would buy time for negotiators to strike a longer-term spending agreement. Democrats sought to display their unity with a joint statement by Reid and Max Baucus of Montana attacking the “reckless” House plan. Several Senate Republicans, meanwhile, conceded Democrats hold the procedural cards and that it would be all but impossible to affect the outcome. “What is really going to happen, and this is more process than it is substance,” Iowa Republican Charles E. Grassley said in public television interview, “The Senate majority will take out anything dealing with Obamacare, send it back to the House of Representatives, they’ll accept it because they won’t want to shut down the government and it’s going to go to the president and the president is going to sign it.”

(TOP) ~ U.S. Bioenergy Statistics

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

(TOP) ~ USDA announces request for public input on agricultural coexistence

USDA is seeking public comments on how coexistence, defined as the "concurrent cultivation of crops produced through diverse agricultural systems including traditionally produced, organic, identity preserved, and genetically engineered crops", may be strengthened in the United States. The Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture made recommendations in five major areas regarding agricultural coexistence. USDA’s notice seeks public comment to identify ways to foster communication and collaboration among those involved in all sectors of agriculture production. AC21 is charged with examining the long-term impacts of biotechnology on the U.S. food and agriculture system and USDA, and providing guidance to USDA on pressing individual issues related to the application of biotechnology in agriculture. Read news release

(TOP) ~ NOAA satellites still facing problems, GAO reports

The launch of a critical geostationary weather satellite used in monitoring hurricanes and other severe weather may be pushed back six months, according to a report released by the Government Accountability Office. The geostationary satellite program, which consists of four new satellites, is keeping within its $10.9 billion budget, the report said. However, it has had delays in several key review and test milestones, which give the program less time to respond if there are problems prior to the launch of the first satellite. A six-month delay would push the launch back to March 2016. The GAO report says National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration program officials attributed the delay to a funding shortfall of $54 million in 2013. Read full article

(TOP) ~ House passes nutrition bill with huge SNAP cuts

The House voted to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by $39 billion over the next decade; the latest development in the long and very winding road to a new five-year farm bill. Also new in the bill was a provision to permanently remove nutrition programs from the farm bill, and dictate that such programs be approved by Congress every three years, while the rest of the farm bill remains on a five-year schedule. If this provision becomes law, it would place future passage of farm bills in serious doubt. The bill passed by the House did not, however, contain a provision to merge the nutrition-only farm bill with the previously passed farm-only farm bill. The House is only able to take a single bill into conference with the Senate’s comprehensive farm bill. It is likely the House will vote to re-merge the two halves of the bill, then, name conferees to meet with the Senate to forge a final farm bill. The key question is what happens to the farm bill negotiated by the conference committee (assuming it goes to conference committee and a final bill is approved). Read full article

(TOP) ~ More than 100 House members urge leaders to link conservation, subsidies

As the farm bill chugs along in Congress, more than 100 members of the House are calling on their leaders to tie conservation requirements to the billions of dollars in subsidies that farmers receive each year toward purchasing crop insurance. Conservation requirements were linked to crop insurance between 1985 and 1996 but were removed to spur more farmers to purchase insurance rather than rely on ad hoc disaster payments. With the likely impending elimination of direct farmer subsidies that have land stewardship requirements attached to them and an increased emphasis on insurance in the farm bill, conservationists have pushed Congress to once again link crop insurance to conservation. Led by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Mike Thompson (D-CA), the lawmakers are urging that any final farm bill conference report include the requirements for highly erodible land and wetlands. "High land prices, driven by strong demand for our commodities, are boosting farm income and putting significant pressure on our land and water resources," the lawmakers wrote in a letter. "This makes the current conservation compliance provisions all the more important." The Senate version of the bill already contains such a provision, but House agriculture leaders have so far opposed similar language on the grounds that it would tie unneeded strings to crop insurance. The nation's major farm and conservation groups, though, have all supported the provision.

(TOP) ~ House Agriculture: searching for the future of food

In this special report, columnist Jerry Hagstrom examines, in-depth, the House Agriculture Committee, its major players, issues and debates. Founded in 1820, the House Agriculture Committee has seen better days. Writes Hagstrom: “Yet serving on the panel may be little fun these days, and even less politically rewarding. The fight to renew the five-year farm bill has been acrimonious in the House and could get more so as the bill goes to conference with the Senate. Meanwhile, the heavy involvement of House leadership in the Agriculture Committee's core issues, differences over agriculture and nutrition policy, and the declining ability of individual members to influence legislation generally have made a seat on the panel less attractive.” Read full article

Sources: Climatewire; Food Industry Environmental Network, LLC; Greenwire; Meridian Institute; National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition; New York Times; Sustainable Development Solution Network; United Nations Conference on Trade and Development; 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.