Science Policy Report

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23 October 2013

In This Issue:

International Corner

~ Climate change: Indigenous Australians 'face disproportionate harm'
~ Report finds major challenges to meeting global food and nutrition needs by 2050
~ As China's demand for grain rises, its water tables drop
~ Innovation for sustainable intensification in Africa
~ How to feed the world, opinion
~ Biofuel development should not compromise food security, says CFS
~ Polls: immigration reform could aid GOP

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ Environmental Engineering
~ Environmental Sustainability
~ Partnerships for Innovation: Building Innovation Capacity
~ Food Protection Task Force Conference
~ FY 2014 National Environmental Information Exchange Network Grant Program
~ Dual Purpose with Dual Benefit: Research in Biomedicine and Agriculture

Conferences, Meetings and Reports

~ ASA, CSSA, SSSA Annual Meeting: Stop by the Science Policy booth
~ ASA, CSSA, SSSA Annual Meeting: Future of the Agriculture Research Enterprise
~ ASA, CSSA, SSSA Annual Meeting: Science Policy Graduate Student lunch
~ Several Miami parks sit atop contaminated soil
~ We must not take science off the table - addressing doubts of biotechnology
~ Thinking outside the GMO box
~ Unregulated, agricultural ammonia threatens national parks' ecology
~ Vilified earthworms actually help store CO2, study

Congressional/Administration News

~ Congress passes deal, but upcoming fiscal challenges remain
~ Lawmakers turn attention once more to plowing ahead on farm bill
~ House names farm bill conferees, clearing way for talks
~ House farm bill would save $52 billion, senate bill $18 billion
~ Shutdown ends, but U.S. Antarctic research still on thin ice
~ Budget blueprints have little in common

International Corner

(TOP) ~ Climate change: Indigenous Australians 'face disproportionate harm'

A leaked report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that indigenous Australians face "disproportionate" harm from climate change. "Little adaptation of Indigenous communities to climate change is apparent to date," the report says. There is "high agreement" among scientists that indigenous people will suffer a heightened rate of disease and will face significant challenges from heat stress and extreme weather events by 2100. The IPCC report, set for release in March, also warns that climate change will cause the number of heat-wave-related deaths in Sydney to triple by the end of the century. In addition to the hotter climate, the sea level is expected to rise by 3.6 feet in a country where the population skews toward coastal cities and towns. The report also indicates that the vulnerability of roads and rail infrastructure would "increase significantly" with a rise above 1.6 feet. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Report finds major challenges to meeting global food and nutrition needs by 2050

The Global Harvest Initiative (GHI) has released its 4th annual Global Agricultural Productivity Report (GAP Report) at the World Food Prize Symposium before an audience of global scientists, agricultural industry experts, farmers, and development professionals. The 2013 GAP Report includes GHI's updated GAP Index, an annual snapshot of agricultural productivity growth measured against growth in global population and food demand. The GAP Index is based on the measurement of total factor productivity (TFP), the ratio of agricultural outputs to inputs. The Global Harvest Initiative has been focused on agricultural productivity and the importance of TFP since 2009, and released its inaugural GAP Report in 2010 at the World Food Prize. Read full article

(TOP) ~ As China's demand for grain rises, its water tables drop

china grainIn 2006, China produced a surplus of grain, allowing it to export 10 million tons. Since then, the rising demand for meat has grown rapidly, leading China to import 23 million tons of grain this year, according to the USDA. "China will be turning to the outside world for ever growing quantities of grain," Lester Brown said in a teleconference. "Then the question is, can the world meet this demand?" Brown is President of the Earth Policy Institute. He has been studying world agricultural trends, and find the trajectory in grain consumption, and the correlating water consumption, "rather disturbing." That's because China has been tapping into its aquifers, underwater reservoirs deep underground, to irrigate its farm land. Brown said these ancient waters reserves are "like an oil field." When it's gone, it's gone. He said that the rate at which aquifers are being depleted varies from region to region, but Chinese researchers have reported aquifer levels in the North China plains to be dropping by as much as 10 feet per year. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Innovation for sustainable intensification in Africa

Sir Gordon Conway, a professor of International Development at Imperial College, London, and director of Agriculture for Impact, launched the publication, “Innovation for Sustainable Intensification in Africa.” The report is co-authored by Calestous Juma of Harvard University, Ramadjita Tabo of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa, and Katy Wilson of Agriculture for Impact. In this commentary, Conway says that at the heart of sustainable intensification is innovation. Innovation could help African smallholder farmers produce more with less impact on the environment, while also improving the sustainability of agriculture. Read full article

(TOP) ~ How to feed the world, opinion

In this opinion piece, Mark Bittman writes that the question of how we will feed the world is often answered by saying we have no choice but to intensify industrial agriculture with more high-tech seeds, chemicals, and collateral damage. Yet, he argues, there are other, better options. The world, he says, produces enough food. The reason there are still hungry people is because not all of those calories go to feed humans – a third go to feed animals, five percent is used to produce biofuels, and as much as a third is wasted. “The current system,” writes Bittman, “is neither environmentally nor economically sustainable, dependent as it is on fossil fuels and routinely resulting in environmental damage. It’s geared to letting the half of the planet with money eat well while everyone else scrambles to eat as cheaply as possible.” We need to recognize, he argues, that there are two food systems: one industrial and one of small landholders, or peasants. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Biofuel development should not compromise food security, says CFS

Following a week of intense discussions, the Committee on World Food Security stressed the link between biofuels and food security, saying that the "progressive realization of the right to adequate food for all" should be a priority concern in biofuel development. The world's most important intergovernmental and multi-stakeholder platform for food security and nutrition said biofuel development "should not compromise food security, and should especially consider women and smallholders." The 7-11 October meeting drew nearly 750 people, including over 130 government delegations, 100 civil society and 50 private sector organizations. Following the talks, the CFS also agreed on the importance of integrating smallholder agriculture into national policies, strategies, and research aimed at boosting investment and sustainable development. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Polls: immigration reform could aid GOP

A trio of polls in key GOP-held House districts show that voters overwhelmingly back immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship, and suggest the Republican Party would improve its image in these predominantly Latino areas if Congress passes a rewrite of U.S. immigration laws. The polls, conducted in the districts of California Republican Reps. Jeff Denham, Devin Nunes and David Valadao on behalf of advocacy groups, are meant to pressure them on enacting immigration reform, which generated much momentum earlier this year but sputtered when the debate moved to the House. More than 70 percent of likely voters in all three districts said they would support a bill that mirrored the comprehensive immigration reform bill in the Senate in June, according to the polls. Read full article

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

(TOP) ~ Environmental Engineering

The Environmental Engineering program supports fundamental research and educational activities across the broad field of environmental engineering. The goal of this program is to encourage transformative research which applies scientific and engineering principles to avoid or minimize solid, liquid, and gaseous discharges, resulting from human activity, into land, inland and coastal waters, and air, while promoting resource and energy conservation and recovery. The program also fosters cutting-edge scientific research for identifying, evaluating, and monitoring the waste assimilative capacity of the natural environment and for removing or reducing contaminants from polluted air, water, and soils. Deadline 20 Feb. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Environmental Sustainability

The Environmental Sustainability program supports engineering research with the goal of promoting sustainable engineered systems that support human well-being and that are also compatible with sustaining natural (environmental) systems. These systems provide ecological services vital for human survival. The long-term viability of natural capital is critical for many areas of human endeavor. Research in Environmental Sustainability typically considers long time horizons and may incorporate contributions from the social sciences and ethics. This program supports engineering research that seeks to balance society's need to provide ecological protection and maintain stable economic conditions. Deadline 20 Feb. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Partnerships for Innovation: Building Innovation Capacity

The Partnerships for Innovation: Building Innovation Capacity (PFI:BIC) program supports academe-industry partnerships, which are led by an interdisciplinary academic research team with a least one industry partner, to collaborate in building technological and human innovation capacity. This innovation capacity is intended to endure beyond the initial award. Partnerships that build the capacity to innovate are expected to be effective at innovating and able to continue to innovate. They are highly intentional about creating an environment that fosters innovation. These partnerships not only develop new technology but also foster the development of human capital that embraces a culture of change, nurtures the generation of new ideas, and considers feedback an integral part of the innovation processes. Deadline 27 Jan. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Food Protection Task Force Conference

This Funding Opportunity Announcement, issued by the Food and Drug Administration under the support for Conferences and Scientific meetings Grant mechanism (R13), is to solicit applications from organizations that propose to organize Food Protection Task Force meetings to foster communication, cooperation and collaboration within the States among State, local, tribal and territorial food protection, public health, agriculture, and regulatory agencies. Deadline 2 Jul. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ FY 2014 National Environmental Information Exchange Network Grant Program

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) ~ Dual Purpose with Dual Benefit: Research in Biomedicine and Agriculture

This interagency Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) issued by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) is to invite the submission of grant applications that utilize agriculturally important domestic animal species to improve human health through the advancement of basic and translational research deemed highly relevant to both agricultural and biomedical research. This initiative is designed to facilitate and encourage comparative medicine research studies through the careful selection and refinement of farm animal models that mimic human developmental, physiological and etiological processes to better understand disease origins and improve assisted reproduction efficiencies. Deadline 24 Sep, 2015. Read full announcement

Conferences, Meetings and Reports

(TOP) ~ ASA, CSSA, SSSA Annual Meeting: Stop by the Science Policy booth

The Science Policy Office is hosting a booth in the Society Center. All attendees are invited to stop by and learn more about advocacy activities offered by the Societies and test your Congressional knowledge to be entered into a raffle for a cash prize. Also at the booth you will be able to connect with your members of Congress using our new advocacy software, Engage, to tell them to support food, agriculture, and natural resources research and maintain investment in research funding for FY14. Be sure to take this opportunity to learn more about science policy and make your voice heard!

(TOP) ~ ASA, CSSA, SSSA Annual Meeting: Future of the Agriculture Research Enterprise

In December 2012, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) issued a report to the President on Agricultural Preparedness and the Agriculture Research Enterprise. The report represents an important analysis of the public and private agricultural research structure and the current levels of investment. The release of the PCAST report, coupled with limited federal resources, has sparked a dialogue amongst scientific societies, universities, commodity groups and industry on how to position agriculture research for the 21st century and get the most value out of the state and federal investment. Hear from Daniel Schrag, PCAST member and co-chair of the PCAST Agricultural Preparedness Working Group, on PCAST’s findings and recommendations and what it means for the future of the food and agriculture research enterprise during a lunch and learn session. Get more information

(TOP) ~ ASA, CSSA, SSSA Annual Meeting: Science Policy Graduate Student lunch

Think what goes on in Washington, DC has nothing to do with you? Well, if you or your lab receives funding from USDA, NSF, DOE or any other federal agency, then you have a vested interest in what happens in our government. Congress controls how much funding these agencies receive, which determines how many grants and fellowships they can award. Even if you don't realize it, these funding decisions have a dramatic effect on your current and future professional opportunities. Whether you write to your Congressmen every week or you don't know what district you vote in, the ASA, CSSA & SSSA Science Policy Graduate Student Luncheon will give you the knowledge and tools to more effectively engage in science policy. Attendees will get an "advocacy 101" lesson and learn why it's so critical for scientists and grad students to engage in advocacy. The session is Wednesday, November 6 at noon. Seating is limited. Get more information and register now!

(TOP) ~ Several Miami parks sit atop contaminated soil

miami soilIn Florida's Miami-Dade County, several of the parks sit atop old waste sites. The parks are the result of years of efforts by local officials to build recreation areas in land that has been reclaimed, from old quarries and trash dumps to ash pits and road-building and development leftovers. While the standards for turning such lands into parks have been made much more vigorous over the years (including soil testing and the construction of ventilation systems to keep methane from seeping out of the ground) such practices weren't always in use. In recent weeks, high soil contamination has been discovered in two Miami city parks, including one that used to be a dumping ground for ash from an incinerator. Because of the discoveries, regulators have mandated testing of all of Miami's 112 parks. The health risk to the community remains unknown. Read full article

(TOP) ~ We must not take science off the table - addressing doubts of biotechnology

In this opinion piece, Dan Glickman, former U.S. agriculture secretary, and Doug Bereuter, president emeritus of the Asia Foundation, write that while the choice of three biotechnology scientists as recipients of the World Food Prize has been controversial, the work of the scientists is important to eliminating hunger and malnutrition. “As food demand increases, the only sustainable alternative to ripping up fragile lands is to increase productivity on fertile areas already being used to farm,” they write, adding, “There is no single strategy for addressing these challenges. In some cases, simpler approaches work, such as appropriate use of fertilizers, improved extension services, better technical capacity on the farm, effective conservation tillage practices and modern marketing arrangements. However, including biotechnology in the array of efforts to increase food production will be essential to improving the nutritional composition of food; increasing crop tolerance to drought, heat, pests and disease; and reducing pesticide and chemical use.” It is intellectually close-minded, they write, to deprive the world of the option to take advantage of biotechnology. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Thinking outside the GMO box

In this blog post, Beth Hoffman, writing in Forbes, argues that the debate over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is distracting us from less sexy interventions that have dramatically reduced hunger and malnutrition over the last fifty years, and that are in desperate need of our continued support. Such programs include the Homestead Food Program through Helen Keller International, which has impacted more than five million people with long-lasting nutritional, economic, and educational changes, and the Bangladesh Rehabilitation Assistance Committee (BRAC), which has 97,000 women health workers in Bangladesh alone that work to bring micronutrient powders and basic health services to extremely rural communities. Yet, unlike GMOs, most of us have never heard of these projects – and that lack of discussion and knowledge, writes Hoffman, is exemplified in a lack of support for these critical programs. “Instead,” she says, “donors have been seduced by talk of ‘easy,’ high tech solutions and despite the proven successes of these alternative programs, the drive to increase production via improved seeds and fertilizer, charges on.” Read full article

(TOP) ~ Unregulated, agricultural ammonia threatens national parks' ecology

Thirty-eight U.S. national parks are experiencing "accidental fertilization" at or above a critical threshold for ecological damage, according to a study published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics and led by Harvard University researchers. Unless significant controls on ammonia emissions are introduced at a national level, they say, little improvement is likely between now and 2050. The environmental scientists, experts in air quality, atmospheric chemistry, and ecology, have been studying the fate of nitrogen-based compounds that are blown into natural areas from power plants, automobile exhaust, and increasingly industrial agriculture. Nitrogen that finds its way into natural ecosystems can disrupt the cycling of nutrients in soil, promote algal overgrowth and lower the pH of water in aquatic environments, and ultimately decrease the number of species that can survive. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Vilified earthworms actually help store CO2, study

Is the earthworm turning into a global warming savior? Earlier this year, the animals were cast as key contributors to climate change, but they may have been falsely accused. A fifth of carbon dioxide emissions come from soils, and earthworms play a central role, churning up soil and encouraging the breakdown of organic matter to produce CO2. But they also drive subterranean processes that both lock up and release carbon. A recent review of more than 200 published studies by Ingrid Lubbers of Wageningen University in the Netherlands and colleagues concluded that worms increase CO2 emissions from soils by a third on average. Weixin Zhang of the South China Botanical Garden in Guangzhou says things are more complex. His team's work shows that microbes in the guts of earthworms convert organic carbon into a form that can be stored in soils. Get more information

Congressional/Administration News

(TOP) ~ Congress passes deal, but upcoming fiscal challenges remain

Congress late on Oct. 16 agreed to reopen the frozen federal government and raise the nation's borrowing limit, capping a 16-day crescendo of bitter partisanship and raising the specter of whether the divided capital can find common ground before another fiscal deadline in just three months. The votes on a bipartisan Senate-crafted deal came in quick succession, with an 81-18 passage in the upper chamber followed by a 285-144 approval in the House. But that speed belied the long-running clashes over spending priorities that have dominated Capitol Hill for years and remain poised to derail debates on even the narrowest energy proposals. The bill includes a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government funded at existing levels until Jan. 15, when across-the-board discretionary spending cuts are set to take effect under the terms of 2011's Budget Control Act. In addition, President Obama gains the power to suspend the debt limit until Feb. 7 under terms that give Congress the right to weigh in with a disapproval vote that is subject to a veto. Another portion of the bill requires Congress to report by Dec. 14 on bicameral budget conference talks that, if all goes well, could forge a path to the so-called "grand bargain" on taxes, entitlements and discretionary spending that has eluded lawmakers and Obama since he took office. That budget conference could trigger a broad re-evaluation of discretionary budgets at U.S. EPA, the Energy Department and the Interior Department that have dipped to levels unseen in decades as the GOP presses a program of fiscal discipline on the government. Alternatively, however, the conferees could find themselves at the same loggerheads that set the so-called "sequester" in motion in 2011 after bipartisan negotiators failed to reach agreement on a fiscal framework for the nation that would include some new revenues as well as cuts.

(TOP) ~ Lawmakers turn attention once more to plowing ahead on farm bill

With the government shutdown over, look for work to resume quickly on the full farm bill conference. The four farm bill leaders have kicked off negotiations by meeting. Staff members of the committee are meanwhile "talking every day.” The 41-member bicameral conference committee will work to move the bill "forward in a methodical way and get it done as quickly as we can," Stabenow said. The committee is expected to produce a final report that will go back to both the House and the Senate for approval before reaching the president's desk. While the farm portions of the House and Senate versions of the full bills are similar, they contain a few key differences in the way they allot subsidies to farmers. The Senate bill also contains a provision linking conservation requirements to crop insurance and includes $900 million in mandatory dollars for rural energy programs; the House bill contains neither. The bills' proposed cuts to the food stamp program are expected to be the biggest point of contention. The Senate version of the bill contains about $4 billion in cuts to the program over the next decade, while the House version's cut is four times that amount. The most recent farm bill extension expired Sept. 30. The double whammy of the government shutdown and the expiration of the bill has left many conservation and energy programs in the lurch.

(TOP) ~ House names farm bill conferees, clearing way for talks

The House is set to begin discussions with the Senate over a long-awaited farm bill after House leaders named 29 members to a conference with the upper chamber. The Senate already has set its roster of conferees to consider the five-year reauthorization of farm subsidy, conservation, rural energy and nutrition assistance programs. No meetings have been scheduled yet. The House Republican conferees will be led by Lucas and 11 other members of the Agriculture Committee: Reps. Steve King of Iowa, Randy Neugebauer and Michael Conaway of Texas, Mike Rogers and Martha Roby of Alabama, Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania, Austin Scott of Georgia, Rick Crawford of Arkansas, Kristi Noem of South Dakota, Jeff Denham of California, and Rodney Davis of Illinois. Read full article

(TOP) ~ House farm bill would save $52 billion, senate bill $18 billion

The House-passed farm bill would save $51.9 billion over 10 years in baseline spending while the Senate bill would save only $17.9 billion, according to a new Congressional Research Office comparison of the bills completed late last week. Jim Monke, the Congressional Research Service specialist on agriculture policy who wrote it, was accepted from the government shutdown, a Capitol Hill source said. The main difference between the two bills is that the House bill would reduce nutrition payments by $39 billion over 10 years while the Senate bill would reduce nutrition programs by only $3.9 billion. The Senate bill reduces farm programs by $13.9 billion, slightly more than the House's reduction of $12.9 billion. The update is the first to combine the House-passed farm and nutrition bills and to compare them with the comprehensive Senate-passed bill. The report noted that in May, the Congressional Budget Office projected that the current farm bill programs, if they were to continue beyond the 2008 farm bill, would cost $973 billion over the next 10 years (FY2014-FY2023).

(TOP) ~ Shutdown ends, but U.S. Antarctic research still on thin ice

antarctic researchWith government cash flowing again, the U.S. Antarctic research program is scrambling to reverse the science shutdown forced into place last week. On Oct. 8, the National Science Foundation ordered the three U.S. Antarctic bases drawn down to winter caretaker status, with minimal staff. The closure reverberated across the planet, hurting thousands of scientists and staffers heading to the frozen continent for the summer research season. Now, returning NSF employees face a logistical nightmare — rewinding the shutdown and trying to save the Antarctic research season. Because of the mess, it will be several days before scientists learn the status of their stalled projects. But the tight window for Antarctic travel means some research projects can't be saved. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Budget blueprints have little in common

Comparing the House and Senate fiscal 2014 budget resolutions shows just what a formidable challenge the budget conference committee will face in coming weeks to craft a bipartisan deal. In general, the House plan would cut spending dramatically without raising taxes, while the Senate plan would cut spending by relatively little in comparison while raising taxes substantially. It’s difficult to compare the plans against each other with great precision. Each plan measures its proposed revenue increases or spending cuts against its own unique fiscal projections or baselines. Comparing each budget document to the latest Congressional Budget Office projections of what the government would spend over the next decade offers some more firm numbers. Measured against the CBO, the Senate plan calls for $828 billion in additional revenue over 10 years, more than the $617 billion in higher taxes that Republicans and Democrats agreed to in the fiscal cliff deal. The House plan would not raise taxes at all. But it would cut spending by $5.2 trillion over a decade, while the Senate plan would cut spending by $315 billion over 10 years. Both plans take different spending approaches but each would violate the post-sequester budget caps, which are set at $498 billion for defense and $469 billion for domestic spending in fiscal 2014.

Sources: The Chicago Council on Global Affairs; Climatewire; Energy and Environmental Daily; Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; Greenwire; Meridian Institute; The New York Times; Politico; Science Newsline

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.