Science Policy Report

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20 November 2013

In This Issue:

International Corner

~ IPCC underestimates growth of Amazon's dry season, study
~ Warming in Arctic region 'unprecedented' in last 44,000 years, study
~ Nepal reduces methane emissions by composting waste
~ Damage to poor countries from climate change goes far beyond money, report
~ Haiti, Philippines suffered most from 2012 climate-induced disasters, study
~ Changing the global food narrative

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ Nutrigenetics and Nutrigenomics Approaches for Nutrition Research
~ Division of Environmental Biology
~ AFRI NIFA Fellowships Grant Program
~ SERDP research and development proposals
~ Dr. Karl C. Ivarson Scholarship for graduate students in soil science and related studies
~ Long Term Research in Environmental Biology
~ Decadal and Regional Climate Prediction using Earth System Models
~ Technical Assistance and Training Grant
~ National Science Foundation Geophysics program
~ NSF Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability Fellows
~ National Science Foundation Integrated Earth Systems
~ Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences: Investigator-initiated research projects
~ National Science Foundation Hydrologic Sciences

Conferences, Meetings and Reports

~ USCC Annual Meeting
~ Plant variety protection board; open meeting
~ Climate change to make algal blooms more toxic, report
~ NSF Day at Arizona State University
~ The search for what makes a tasty tomato
~ Study says fertilizers can stay in soil for decades
~ NSF funds $14.5 million in grants to improve geosciences cyberinfrastructure
~ FAO/WHO host meeting on improving nutrition, setting the stage for 2014 conference
~ Innovation in soil-based onsite wastewater treatment
~ USGS study on Chesapeake Bay: groundwater delaying the effects of some actions
~ FASEB's second annual Stand Up For Science video competition
~ NSF advances national efforts enabling data-driven discovery
~ No-till farming is on the rise. That’s actually a big deal
~ Recent NSF study reveals increase in state government expenditures for R&D

Congressional/Administration News

~ Entitlement reform to boost research and development
~ Passage of farm bill vital to avoiding new budget cuts, Vilsack
~ How to pass the farm bill: make it about anything but farm subsidies
~ Proposed peer-review grant system changes too broad, academics tell panel
~ Panel approves Obama picks for NOAA, White House science office
~ Key Dem unveils alternative basic energy research draft bill ahead of hearing
~ Combining forestry with farming slow to take off, USDA
~ Republicans, Dems set to clash on role of federal R&D amid dwindling funding, certainty
~ Advocates for immigration bill are taking a new tack

International Corner

(TOP) ~ IPCC underestimates growth of Amazon's dry season, study

The dry season in the Amazon Basin has become progressively longer over the last four decades, a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds. The dry season has ended about 6.5 days later per decade since 1979 in southern Amazonia. Although some of the variation can be linked to sea surface temperatures, which drive weather phenomena like El Niño and La Niña, anthropogenic climate change is likely responsible for some of the variability in the later end date for the dry season. The problem, said the paper's lead author, Rong Fu, is that the climate models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are not precise enough to pick up on this. "Climate models are not realistic enough," said Fu, a professor at the University of Texas, Austin's Jackson School of Geosciences, because they do not incorporate the processes that cause an increase in the length of the dry season. So what is delaying the end date for the dry season? Previous studies find that two meteorological forces are important. One is a strong convective inhibition energy, which makes it harder to lift air from the surface to a critical altitude in the atmosphere, making the air above this level buoyant. The other, the poleward displacement of the subtropical jet over South America, blocks cold fronts that would allow rainfall over a large area of the Amazon. Both of these phenomena have been tied to the greenhouse gas effect, which causes the Earth to warm. A longer dry season also increases the risk for larger and more frequent wildfires and could also have serious effects on forests' ability to hold carbon and prevent its release into the atmosphere.

(TOP) ~ Warming in Arctic region 'unprecedented' in last 44,000 years, study

Scientists have long known that the Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the globe, even as they had less of a grasp of how recent trends compare to thousands of years ago. Now, a new study aims to fill the knowledge gap by concluding that recent summer warming in the eastern Canadian Arctic is unprecedented in more than 44,000 years. Prior research documented melt and temperature dynamics going back about 2,000 to 4,000 years in comparison, said study lead author Gifford Miller, associate director of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The findings, published online in Geophysical Research Letters, counter the conclusions of some prior studies suggesting that natural forces (along with greenhouse gases) may be contributing to some of the extensive Arctic warming. The study also suggests that climate models are underestimating Arctic changes, as their past predictions were off by more than 2 degrees Celsius. Read the study

(TOP) ~ Nepal reduces methane emissions by composting waste

In an effort to reduce methane emissions and provide cheap, environmentally friendly organic fertilizer to local farmers, Nepal's capital of Katmandu is recycling organic waste and turning it into compost. Organic matter accounts for almost 70 percent of total waste generated daily in the city, where trash is a significant nuisance to thousands of residents. The bid to recycle trash aims to tackle environmental degradation and to reduce the health hazards from rotting produce. Biocomp-Nepal, a nonprofit social enterprise, launched a yearlong project to recycle organic waste into compost in March 2011 in collaboration with the Zurich-based nonprofit foundation Myclimate. A total of 140 tons of organic waste was turned into 15 tons of high-quality compost, which was sold to farmers and local traders. Kathmandu Valley is a hub for agriculture due to its fertile and relatively flat land. Most vegetables sold at the Kalimati market are grown using chemical fertilizers. Farmers have adopted such fertilizers in recent years, reducing the use of traditional fertilizers in the region. According to studies from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the overuse of chemical fertilizers has caused soil fertility to decline globally.

(TOP) ~ Damage to poor countries from climate change goes far beyond money, report

poor countriesMost of the ancient ruins that Moses Ittu, 67, a resident of Lelu Island in the Federated State of Micronesia, visited and played around during his childhood have since disappeared into the ocean. In the last few decades, residents of the island have increasingly used the ancient stones to build walls to shield their homes and livelihoods from pounding waves and creeping sea water. "The sea keeps on rising, and the people need to protect themselves," Ittu told researchers who studied adaptation in response to coastal erosion in Micronesia for The Loss and Damage in Vulnerable Countries initiative at the U.N. University in Bonn, Germany. Micronesia is one of nine nations that researchers recently reviewed in a report assessing loss and damage from climate change. Researchers conducted 3,269 household surveys, more than 200 focus group discussions and open interviews about the economic, social and cultural losses incurred by climate stressors in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Gambia, Kenya, Micronesia, Mozambique and Nepal. See full report

(TOP) ~ Haiti, Philippines suffered most from 2012 climate-induced disasters, study

The Philippines and Haiti suffered the biggest climate-related disasters last year, a study showed as U.N. envoys from 195 nations discussed ways to cope with the increasingly costly impacts of global warming. The analysis from the Berlin-based research group Germanwatch gave more weight to the death toll and value of damage compared with the size of the economy and population of a country. The study didn't include damage from this year, including Super Typhoon Haiyan's devastation in the Philippines. The study, which does not point to specific weather events, highlights the risk that developing nations are facing from more ferocious storms and frequent floods that scientists say are due to higher global temperatures. See full study

(TOP) ~ Changing the global food narrative

“There’s a powerful narrative being told about the world’s food system,” writes Jonathan Foley, the director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, “and it makes complete sense when you listen to it. The problem is, it’s mostly based on flawed assumptions.” This narrative states that we will need to grow almost twice as much food by 2050 to meet the demand of the expected nine billion people on planet Earth, which means we will need to use genetically modified (GM) crops and other advanced technologies to produce this additional food. The math, Foley says, doesn’t add up: simple math shows, instead, that we will need roughly 28 percent more food. The “twice as much” idea, he says, comes mostly from assumptions about diets changing, not population growth alone. Read full article

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

(TOP) ~ Nutrigenetics and Nutrigenomics Approaches for Nutrition Research

NIH is seeking grant funding applications from State and Local governments, public and private institutions of higher education, nonprofit organizations and others for projects to foster collaborative research between nutrition researchers and experts in omics technologies and encourages applications that employ application of nutrigenetics and/or one or more nutrigenomics approaches to basic, translational and clinical nutrition research. Collaboration between investigators with demonstrated expertise in nutrition research and omics techniques is highly encouraged. For the purposes of this funding opportunity, both hypothesis-driven and hypothesis-generating nutrigenomic studies targeted to specific nutrient metabolic pathways are appropriate. Deadline 20 Mar. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Division of Environmental Biology

The Division of Environmental Biology (DEB) supports fundamental research on populations, species, communities, and ecosystems. Scientific emphases range across many evolutionary and ecological patterns and processes at all spatial and temporal scales. Areas of research include biodiversity, phylogenetic systematics, molecular evolution, life history evolution, natural selection, ecology, biogeography, ecosystem structure, function and services, conservation biology, global change, and biogeochemical cycles. Research on organismal origins, functions, relationships, interactions, and evolutionary history may incorporate field, laboratory, or collection-based approaches; observational or manipulative experiments; synthesis activities; as well as theoretical approaches involving analytical, statistical, or computational modeling. Deadline 23 Jan. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ AFRI NIFA Fellowships Grant Program

USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is accepting applications for the program under its Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) which seeks to develop the technical and academic competence of doctoral candidates and the research independence and teaching competencies of postdoctoral students in the food, forestry and agricultural sciences, which are within NIFA’s AFRI Challenge Areas [1) plant health and production and plant products; 2) animal health and production and animal products; 3) food safety, nutrition, and health; 4) renewable energy, natural resources, and environment; 5) agriculture systems and technology; and 6) agriculture economics and rural communities], through well-developed and highly interactive mentoring and training activities. Deadline 20 Feb. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ SERDP research and development proposals

The Department of Defense’s (DoD) Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) is seeking to fund environmental research and development proposals.  SERDP is DoD’s environmental science and technology program, planned and executed in partnership with the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, with participation by numerous other Federal and non-Federal organizations. The Program invests across the broad spectrum of basic and applied research, as well as advanced development.  Proposals responding to focused Statements of Need (SON) in the following areas are requested: Environmental Restoration, Munitions Response, Resource Conservation and Climate Change, and Weapons Systems and Platforms. Deadline 11 Mar. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Dr. Karl C. Ivarson Scholarship for graduate students in soil science and related studies

Each year, through the Dr. Karl C. Ivarson Scholarship, financial support is provided to a student(s) entering second or subsequent year of graduate studies in soil science (in areas of agriculture, environment, geology, agro-ecology or other related disciplines) at a Canadian university. Candidates must hold Canadian Citizenship or Permanent Residence status in Canada and be enrolled in their graduate program for at least one semester beyond the application deadline. Deadline 17 Jan. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Long Term Research in Environmental Biology

The Long Term Research in Environmental Biology (LTREB) Program supports the generation of extended time series of data to address important questions in evolutionary biology, ecology, and ecosystem science. Research areas include, but are not limited to, the effects of natural selection or other evolutionary processes on populations, communities, or ecosystems; the effects of interspecific interactions that vary over time and space; population or community dynamics for organisms that have extended life spans and long turnover times; feedbacks between ecological and evolutionary processes; pools of materials such as nutrients in soils that turn over at intermediate to longer time scales; and external forcing functions such as climatic cycles that operate over long return intervals. Deadline 30 Jan. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Decadal and Regional Climate Prediction using Earth System Models

The consequences of climate variability and change are becoming more immediate and profound than previously anticipated. Over recent decades, the world has witnessed the onset of prolonged droughts on several continents, increased frequency of floods, loss of agricultural and forest productivity, degraded ocean and permafrost ecosystems, global sea level rise and the rapid retreat of ice sheets and glaciers, loss of arctic sea ice, and changes in ocean currents. These important impacts highlight that climate variability and change can have significant effects on decadal and shorter time scales, with significant consequences for plant, animal, human, and physical systems. Deadline 23 Dec. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Technical Assistance and Training Grant

Funds may be used to pay expenses associated with providing technical assistance and/or training (TAT) to identify and evaluate solutions to water problems relating to source, storage, treatment, and distribution, and to waste disposal problems relating to collection, treatment, and disposal; assist applicants that have filed a pre-application with RUS in the preparation of water and/or waste disposal loan and/or grant applications; and to provide training that will improve the management, operation and maintenance of water and waste disposal facilities. Grant funds may not be used to recruit applications, duplicate current services such as those performed by a consultant in developing a project, fund political activities, pay for capital assets, purchase real estate or vehicles, improve and renovate office space or repair and maintain privately owned property, pay construction or O&M costs, and pay costs incurred prior to the effective date of grants made. Deadline 31 Jan. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ National Science Foundation Geophysics program

The Geophysics Program supports basic research in the physics of the solid earth to explore its composition, structure, and processes from the Earth's surface to it's deepest interior. Laboratory, field, theoretical, and computational studies are supported. Topics include seismicity, seismic wave propagation, and the nature and occurrence of geophysical hazards; the Earth's magnetic, gravity, and electrical fields; the Earth's thermal structure; and geodynamics. Supported research also includes geophysical studies of active deformation, including geodesy, and theoretical and experimental studies of the properties and behavior of Earth materials. Deadline 4 Dec. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ NSF Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability Fellows

Through the SEES Fellows Program, NSF seeks to advance science, engineering, and education to inform the societal actions needed for environmental and economic sustainability and human well-being while creating the necessary workforce to address these challenges.  The Program's emphasis is to facilitate investigations that cross traditional disciplinary boundaries and address issues of sustainability through a systems approach, building bridges between academic inquiry, economic growth, and societal needs.  The Fellow's proposed investigation must be interdisciplinary and allow him/her to obtain research experiences beyond his/her current core disciplinary expertise.  Fellows are required to develop a research partnership(s) that will advance and broaden the impact/scope of the proposed research, and present a plan for their own professional development in the area of sustainability science and engineering. Deadline 26 Nov. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ National Science Foundation Integrated Earth Systems

Integrated Earth Systems (IES) is a program in the Division of Earth Sciences (EAR) that focuses on the continental, terrestrial and deep Earth subsystems of the whole Earth system.  The overall goal of the program is to provide opportunity for collaborative, multidisciplinary research into the operation, dynamics and complexity of Earth systems at a budgetary scale between that of a typical project in the EAR Division's disciplinary programs and larger scale initiatives at the Directorate or Foundation level. Specifically, IES will provide research opportunities for the study of Earth systems from the core of the Earth to the top of the critical zone with a specific focus on subsystems that include continental, terrestrial and deep Earth subsystems at all temporal and spatial scales. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences: Investigator-initiated research projects

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) supports quantitative, predictive, and theory-driven fundamental research and related activities designed to promote understanding of complex living systems at the molecular, subcellular, and cellular levels. MCB is soliciting proposals for hypothesis-driven and discovery research and related activities in four core clusters: Molecular Biophysics, Cellular Dynamics and Function, Genetic Mechanisms, and Systems and Synthetic Biology. Deadline 17 Nov. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ National Science Foundation Hydrologic Sciences

The Hydrologic Sciences Program focuses on the fluxes of water in the environment that constitute the water cycle as well as the mass and energy transport function of the water cycle in the environment.  The Program supports studying processes from rainfall to runoff to infiltration and streamflow; evaporation and transpiration; as well as the flow of water in soils and aquifers and the transport of suspended, dissolved and colloidal components.  Water is seen as the mode of coupling among various components of the environment and emphasis is placed on how the coupling is enabled by the water cycle and how it functions as a process. Deadline 5 Dec. Read full announcement

Conferences, Meetings and Reports

(TOP) ~ USCC Annual Meeting

Hear the latest research on composting and compost uses at the US Composting Council Annual Meeting, January 26-29 in Oakland, CA. SSSA members get a special discount, enter code “SSSA2014” at the payment screen to get 10% off your registration. Get more information

(TOP) ~ Plant variety protection board; open meeting

The USDA Plant Variety Protection (PVP) Board has scheduled a public meeting for December 9 and 10, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The purpose of the meeting will be to discuss the PVP Office's 2013 achievements, 2014 work plan and outreach plan, ongoing process improvements, updates on electronic applications/database conversion, plans for PVP recognition by other countries, the activity of the subcommittee to evaluate molecular techniques for PVP distinctness characterization and proposals for procedure changes. The proposed agenda for the PVP Board meeting will include a welcome by Department officials followed by a discussion focusing on program activities that encourage the development of new plant varieties and address appeals to the Secretary. The agenda will also include presentations on PVP plans for the future, electronic PVP application/computer database development, and the use of molecular markers for PVP application. Get more information

(TOP) ~ Climate change to make algal blooms more toxic, report

Mats of blue-green algae coating lakes and waterways are becoming not only larger and more frequent but also more toxic, according to a new report. As the climate warms, tiny cyanobacteria gain a competitive edge in still waters around the world. Past research found that large algal blooms are poised to become a regular occurrence, choking out wildlife, threatening human health and overwhelming water infrastructure. The recent cyanobacteria surges stem largely from human activity. One of the main factors is nutrient runoff, namely phosphorus and nitrogen. Much of this comes from agricultural fertilizers, but some also comes from fossil fuel pollution. Human-induced climate change is another culprit, since these bacteria favor warmer temperatures. Altered landscapes play a role in fostering blooms, as well. Cyanobacteria don't grow particularly rapidly, but if you dam a river, you slow the water and increase the amount of time these bacteria can proliferate to bloom levels. In a paper published in the journal Science, Timothy Otten and his co-author, Hans Paerl, report that climate change is driving a cycle that favors increasingly toxic blooms. The most immediately effective strategy to deal with this threat is to control how much reactive nitrogen, phosphorus and organic carbon end up in bodies of water. Cutting down runoff from farms, replanting trees, remediating watersheds and thoroughly treating wastewater are some of the more effective ways of shrinking algal blooms.

(TOP) ~ NSF Day at Arizona State University

The National Science Foundation (NSF) and Arizona State University will be holding an "NSF Day" workshop on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013. This workshop is primarily designed for researchers and educators less experienced in proposing to the NSF; however, more experienced proposers and NSF grantees may well find the workshop useful and informative.  The workshop will provide an overview of the Foundation, its mission, priorities, and budget. It will cover the NSF proposal and merit review process and NSF programs that cut across disciplines. Additionally, representatives from the seven NSF directorates and the Office of International and Integrative Activities will make presentations on their programs and will also be available informally and in breakout sessions for discussions of potential research proposals. Get more information

(TOP) ~ The search for what makes a tasty tomato

Tomatoes are a $2 billion crop in the United States, but a common complaint is that the varieties in supermarkets often lack the flavor of locally grown varieties. To improve flavor, breeders need to know more about the types of tomatoes that hold the greatest potential for enhancing taste. USDA molecular biologist Joanne Labate and plant geneticist Larry Robertson at Geneva, N.Y., worked with Dilip Panthee of North Carolina State University to explore tomato's diversity in a study designed to help breeders develop tastier tomatoes. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Study says fertilizers can stay in soil for decades

Traces of nitrate fertilizers can stay in the ground for decades after their first application, researchers say. The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, raise new questions about the efficacy of environmental efforts underway in the Midwest and mid-Atlantic regions that aim to reduce agricultural runoff by setting limits on how much of the chemicals can enter streams and rivers. The efforts by the states in the Mississippi River watershed to cut nitrogen levels in the water are meant to eventually help lower the size of the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Environmental officials in the Chesapeake Bay region have also long struggled with nitrogen runoff, which causes algae blooms that consume oxygen in the water. Read full article

(TOP) ~ NSF funds $14.5 million in grants to improve geosciences cyberinfrastructure

Imagine a world with unlimited access to scientific data in any field, where researchers can plot data from any source and visualize it any way they'd like, and where they can model results and explore ideas from a desktop, a lab or the field. EarthCube aims to make that vision a reality. EarthCube is a National Science Foundation (NSF) effort to create a data and knowledge management system for geosciences in the 21st century. Read full article

(TOP) ~ FAO/WHO host meeting on improving nutrition, setting the stage for 2014 conference

nutritionThe UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are hosting an expert meeting on improving nutrition designed to lay the groundwork for the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2), scheduled to take place in 2014, from 19 to 21 November. The aim is to boost coordination of international efforts to tackle the agricultural, economic, health, food system and other factors that negatively influence what and how people eat, especially in developing countries. FAO notes that while 842 million people are chronically hungry, many more die or suffer the ill effects of inadequate nutrition. Around 2 billion people are affected by micronutrient deficiencies. Close to 7 million children die before their fifth birthday every year, 162 million children under five are stunted while at the same time, 500 million people are obese. Get more information

(TOP) ~ Innovation in soil-based onsite wastewater treatment

Natural resource professionals are being asked to treat human wastewater more effectively and efficiently in today's decentralized wastewater arena. This is a tall order and can only be accomplished if everyone understands the state of the science in this broad, interconnected field. Soil scientists must know the technology to make good recommendations to engineers about system design. Engineers must know the regulations to specify an appropriate system for a site. Service providers must understand system function to maintain the highest level of treatment. Regulators must understand soil and system capabilities to develop sustainable regulations. And the public must be educated about how their actions affect performance to increase system longevity and protect their investment. Abstract deadline 6 Dec. Get more information

(TOP) ~ USGS study on Chesapeake Bay: groundwater delaying the effects of some actions

It may take several decades for many water-quality management practices aimed at reducing nitrogen input to the Bay to achieve their full benefit due to the influence of groundwater, according to a study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. The report found that a large portion on the Delmarva (more than two thirds) is affected by the slow travel times of nutrients moving from their land source through underground aquifers to a receiving stream or estuary. Sources of nitrogen include fertilizer and manure applications to agricultural land, wastewater and industrial discharges, runoff from urban areas, domestic septic drain fields, and air emissions. See the news release

(TOP) ~ FASEB's second annual Stand Up For Science video competition

The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) is sponsoring its second annual Stand Up For Science competition. This year, FASEB's goal is to increase the awareness of the critical role of federal agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), in funding biomedical and biological research. We are looking for individuals or groups to submit a creative 1-4 minute video on this theme. Submissions will be accepted through November 30, 2013. The grand prize winner will be announced in February 2014 and will receive $5,000! Get more information

(TOP) ~ NSF advances national efforts enabling data-driven discovery

National Science Foundation (NSF) officials are spotlighting the development and implementation of novel, multi-stakeholder partnerships that promise progress in big data discovery, education and innovation at a White House-sponsored event, Data to Knowledge to Action, in Washington, D.C. The event follows last year's launch of the Administration's National Big Data R&D Initiative that has recorded significant progress and accomplishments since being introduced in March 2012. Get more information

(TOP) ~ No-till farming is on the rise. That’s actually a big deal

A new trend in U.S. agriculture, over the last few decades, is the dramatic rise in no-till farming, or growing crops without disturbing the soil through tillage or plowing. Churning up the soil results in both soil erosion and the release of significant carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. No-till farming is now growing at a pace of about 1.5 percent per year, as more farmers discover the practice helps them conserve water, reduce erosion, and use less fossil fuel and labor to grow crops. Cropland erosion in the U.S. decreased nearly 40 percent between 1982 and 1997. There are some downsides to no-till farming, including the up-front cost of specialized equipment, and the possible increase in chemical herbicides to kill weeds. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Recent NSF study reveals increase in state government expenditures for R&D

According to a recent study published by the National Science Foundation (NSF), state government agency expenditures for research and development (R&D) totaled $1.4 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2011, an 11 percent increase over the $1.3 billion reported in FY 2010. In addition, expenditures for R&D construction projects, major building renovations and land and building acquisitions intended primarily for R&D use totaled $109 million in FY 2011, a 2 percent increase over the $107 million reported in FY 2010 for the same projects. The FY 2010 and 2011 data are the most recent available for R&D activities funded by state government agencies in each of the fifty states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. See full study

Congressional/Administration News

(TOP) ~ Entitlement reform to boost research and development

Despite strong congressional support for science, the future of the United States’ scientific initiative could be in jeopardy. But the real driving force behind the threat is often obscured in the media by short-term distractions. America’s national debt hovers dangerously close to $17 trillion for the first time in history. Any honest economist will tell you a government can’t afford to pay for everything. Governing is about making difficult choices. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Passage of farm bill vital to avoiding new budget cuts, Vilsack

The passage of the five-year farm bill is crucial to the completion of a budget, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said as conference committees for both the farm bill and the budget continue to hash out deals. The budget conference committee is working to prevent the next round of automatic across-the-board spending cuts that are set to go into effect in mid-January. The farm bill could be the vehicle that provides savings to offset the elimination of the cuts. "We're going to have a farm bill, because if you don't have a farm bill, you're not going to have a budget," Vilsack said. "If you want to get rid of or you want to tone down the impact of sequester, you have to identify additional savings in some other part of the budget." Democrats on the budget committee are focused on raising additional revenue, while Republicans are focused on digging into entitlements. Vilsack said the five-year reauthorization of the farm bill would be the easiest option. There are still several barriers to completion of a final farm bill conference report that can gain enough support to pass both the House and Senate, including a decision on the amount of money to cut from the federal food stamp program, how to allocate farm subsidies and whether to tie conservation requirements to crop insurance. An amendment by Rep. Steve King (R-IA) that stymies states' ability to place requirements on how food is produced is also a sticking point.

(TOP) ~ How to pass the farm bill: make it about anything but farm subsidies

In this opinion piece, Emma Green, an associate editor at The Atlantic, writes that Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, whether he is talking about energy security, infrastructure, or nutrition, has perfected the game of political distraction. The Obama administration, as the House and Senate work to reconcile their differences on the farm bill, seems, she says, to be putting some spin on the controversial topic of farm subsidies. Speaking at the Washington Ideas Forum this week, Vilsack described a farm bill about pretty much everything but the money the federal government gives to farmers. When questioned about “wasteful farm subsidies,” Vilsack tended to sidestep the issue, focusing instead on a laundry list of potential long-term benefits of the bill. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Proposed peer-review grant system changes too broad, academics tell panel

lamar smithA proposal to overhaul the National Science Foundation peer-review grant system by the House Science, Space and Technology Committee would not improve the efficiency or efficacy of the approval process, witnesses have said. Under a draft discussion bill by Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) unveiled at a hearing, the NSF director would need to approve all research grant approvals. Projects would have to adhere to at least one of the following criteria: increase U.S. economic competitiveness; advance the health and welfare of the U.S. public; develop science, technology, education and math (STEM) workforce and increase U.S. public scientific literacy; increase partnerships between academia and industry; promote U.S scientific progress; or support national defense. Authorizers of any grants would also be required to submit written justification for the projects' funding approval, under the discussion draft. The proposal would also reauthorize the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy, and addresses STEM education programs, manufacturing partnerships and technology commercialization programs. Daniel Sarewitz, co-director of the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, said that while he welcomed a discussion about improving scientific accountability to society, the particular proposal for changing the peer-review process without addressing the overall scientific context and community in which it exists would likely not achieve that goal. The broad provisions also likely heighten the scientific community's concern that the final approval would be subject to a political decision, since most proposals could be written to fit within the categories. See draft bill

(TOP) ~ Panel approves Obama picks for NOAA, White House science office

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has advanced President Obama's pick to lead the nation's oceans, fisheries and weather satellite programs, as well as two nominees to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. If confirmed, Kathryn Sullivan will officially be in charge of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which she has led as acting administrator since February. Sullivan has worked as the agency's chief scientist and assistant secretary for observation and predictions. The panel also advanced the nominations of Robert Simon to be OSTP's associate director of energy and environment and Jo Handelsman for the office's associate director of science.

(TOP) ~ Key Dem unveils alternative basic energy research draft bill ahead of hearing

The ranking member of the House Science, Technology and Space Committee has released a draft bill to reauthorize a broad science, innovation and education law known as the America COMPETES Act. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) released the prospective bill before the committee had a hearing on one of at least two draft bills that Republicans are offering in lieu of reauthorizing the 6-year-old COMPETES Act. Johnson's draft bill would include a "comprehensive" reauthorization of DOE's Office of Science, NSF and NIST, as well as ARPA-E, DOE's multidisciplinary research collaborations known as Energy Innovation Hubs, and the National Nanotechnology Initiative. The bill would also improve the process of commercialization, or "tech transfer," by reauthorizing the Regional Innovation Program, creating a pilot state grant program and other grants for entrepreneurship and commercialization education. See the draft bill and a fact sheet of the bill

(TOP) ~ Combining forestry with farming slow to take off, USDA

Despite a renewed focus on agroforestry by the Agriculture Department over the last few years, a first-ever department report shows the agency still has a ways to go toward its goals of boosting the farming method. According to the report, USDA has helped farmers and ranchers establish agroforestry (the practice of growing trees on the same land used to grow crops and raise livestock) on less than 1 percent of the available land in the United States over the last five years. But there's potential for much wider adoption, USDA said. "With formalized agricultural and forestry sectors in the United States, many of us see farms and forests as distinct and different places in our minds," USDA said, "but there does not need to be a hard line between them." Agroforestry encompasses a variety of practices, from combining trees with livestock pasture to planting crops between rows of trees to planting crops beneath a forest canopy. Stream buffers and windbreaks also are classified as agroforestry. The report assesses how close the department is to reaching three broad goals laid out in an agroforestry framework in 2011: increasing adoption of agroforestry practices, boosting scientific research and better integrating agroforestry into USDA's work. See full report

(TOP) ~ Republicans, Dems set to clash on role of federal R&D amid dwindling funding, certainty

In 2007, Congress passed one of its last truly bipartisan, comprehensive bills, which aimed to boost scientific research, development and education in order to reverse the declining level of U.S. competitiveness. But Republicans and Democrats now have very different visions for the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education and Science Act (COMPETES Act), whose authorization officially lapsed at the end of September. It is unclear whether the parties will be able to find a compromise anytime soon, undermining the little certainty about federal support for research and development left for the scientific, academic and private-sector communities after sequestration and the government shutdown. At issue is whether it is the role of the federal government to support not just basic science but also efforts to use that science outside the laboratory in the face of a dwindling budget and U.S. scientific leadership.

(TOP) ~ Advocates for immigration bill are taking a new tack

The dwindling prospects for an immigration reform bill have at least some supporters looking to take a more confrontational approach, or at least have a backup plan if a broader deal fails. The reform bill that passed the Senate over the summer included measures favored by unions, as well as high-tech, agriculture and other industries. In the House, while five bills have cleared committees, none have been brought to the floor. The languid pace in the House has resulted in anxiety for crop and dairy farmers, many of whom rely on immigrant laborers. Jerry Kozak, the president of the National Milk Producers Federation, said if a broad immigration bill stalls, "we have an obligation" to look for a plan "that at least addresses the agricultural portion.” While the agricultural visa system currently will provide permits for seasonal jobs, the industry says dairy farmers need year-round visas. Read full article

Sources: Agricultural Research Service; The Atlantic; Climatewire; Energy and Environment Daily; Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; Food Industry Environmental Network, LLC; Greenfire; Meridian Institute; National Science Foundation; USDA NASS Federal Register Notice; The Wall Street Journal; The Washington Post

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.

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