Science Policy Report

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18 December 2013

In This Issue:

International Corner

~ Five ways to feed 9 billion people without ruining the planet
~ Climate change threatening Costa Rica's banana industry
~ Many developing nations are a century or more behind in adapting to climate change
~ China not ready to tackle climate change, government report
~ Pollination and land degradation: top priorities for new intergovernmental body

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ Water Conservation Field Services Program
~ Value Added Producer Grant
~ Biotechnology Risk Assessment
~ Environmental Education Model Grants
~ Agricultural Innovation Prize

Conferences, Meetings and Reports

~ Healthy soils webinar series
~ Apply Today: Congressional Science Fellowship
~ Farm bill conservation practices reduce runoff of nutrients, report
~ The post-GMO economy
~ Growing corn can be done sustainably, so why isn’t it?
~ Global R&D forecast
~ USGS releases tool quantifying county-scale impacts of climate change
~ Accused of harming bees, Bayer researches a different culprit
~ Fertilizing sustainable farms

Congressional/Administration News

~ Budget has been deal reached
~ DOE Strategic Plan from ASA, CSSA, & SSSA
~ House passes farm bill extension that Senate will not take up
~ Top negotiators say U.S. farm bill delayed to January
~ Farmers may have to pay for conservation help under deal
~ Farm Bill Budget Visualizer
~ White House releases new EPA agenda

International Corner

(TOP) ~ Five ways to feed 9 billion people without ruining the planet

farmerClosing the global "food gap" is going to require a major effort. But given that the world tosses away one-quarter of all calories it produces, the challenges seem solvable with fresh ideas and thinking. A new report from the World Resources Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank, forecasts the world will need to produce 69% more calories by 2050, given a global population of 9.6 billion people. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Climate change threatening Costa Rica's banana industry

A Costa Rican agency has issued a statement declaring a national crop emergency for bananas, one of Costa Rica's most important agricultural exports, over the proliferation of mealybugs and scale insects. Magda González, director of the Agriculture and Livestock Ministry's State Phytosanitary Services (SFE), said Wednesday that climate change plays an important role in the countrywide infestation threatening Costa Rica's multimillion-dollar banana industry. "Climate change, by affecting temperature, favors the conditions under which [the insects] reproduce," González said, as do changes in rain patterns. She estimated that these conditions could shorten the bugs' reproduction cycle by one-third. SFE estimates that the pests have affected some 59,000 acres of banana fields to varying degrees. The insects weaken the banana plant, lowering production, and can cause blemishes on the fruit that exporters might reject. Producers will now be allowed to import and wrap banana bunches with bags laced with the pesticides buprofezin and bifenthrin. González added that pesticides are not the only solution, and that SFE offers support for farmers looking to use biological control agents (like other bugs) to combat the pests. Costa Rica exported more than 1.2 million tons of fresh bananas in 2012, valued at more than $815 million.

(TOP) ~ Many developing nations are a century or more behind in adapting to climate change

Without significant new investment, it will take the poverty-stricken West African nation of Mali more than 250 years to be as prepared for climate change as wealthy Western nations. Indonesia, which has been moving steadily up the global economic ranks, is still 122 years away from that goal. And the Philippines, rocked last month by Typhoon Haiyan and still far from recovery, won't be as climate-ready as rich countries for another 48 years. The figures are part of a sweeping new ranking released by the University of Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index (ND-GAIN), which examined data from 175 countries going back to 1995 to understand the nations' long-term vulnerability to droughts, storm surges and other extreme weather events made more common because of climate change. On average, the organization found, poor countries are about a century away from rich countries in their ability to withstand the impacts of climate change. According to the ND-GAIN index, the countries best prepared to deal with climate change are Australia, Finland, Norway, Switzerland and Denmark. Among the least ready to adapt: South Korea, Afghanistan, Burundi, the Central African Republic and Eritrea. Get more information

(TOP) ~ China not ready to tackle climate change, government report

China is poorly prepared to tackle the impacts of climate change, which presents a serious threat to the country, because of a lack of planning and public awareness, the government said. The country already faces challenges from weather extremes, with 2,000 people dying on average each year since the 1990s in natural disasters that are set to get worse. China is seeing more droughts in its northern region, with typhoons arriving earlier, wetlands drying up and sea levels rising. Government steps to mitigate climate change include building more reservoirs, providing better protection for forests and wetlands, and improving weather warning systems, but China is unable to protect basic infrastructure, such as power and water supplies, from extreme weather events, and flood prevention efforts need to be spruced up, the report said. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Pollination and land degradation: top priorities for new intergovernmental body

The groundbreaking Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) agreed to develop a set of assessments on pollination and food production, land degradation and invasive species aimed at providing policymakers with the tools to tackle pressing environmental challenges. Around 400 delegates from over 100 governments, scientific organizations, civil society and the private sector, attended the second meeting of the Platform in Antalya, Turkey. IPBES Member Governments present at the meeting adopted a very ambitious initial work program for the Platform for the next five years, and demonstrated strong commitment to its implementation by already pledging more than half of the total US$ 43.5 million required, in what will be remembered as the "Antalya consensus". Read full article

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

(TOP) ~ Water Conservation Field Services Program

The Bureau of Reclamation’s Upper Colorado Region is requesting applications for the Water Conservation Field Service Program (WCFSP). Many, if not most, of the Bureau of Reclamation projects in the Upper Colorado Region have been in operation for several decades and are still using practices and procedures that represent state-of-the-art technology at the time the project was constructed. Much can be done to advance these projects to 2000's technology with the accompanying increase in water use efficiency. Likewise, per capita urban water use in various locations within the Upper Colorado Region is among the highest in the nation. Deadline 7 Feb. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Value Added Producer Grant

The primary objective of the VAPG program is to help agricultural producers enter into value-added activities related to the processing and/or marketing of bio-based value-added products. Generating new products, creating and expanding marketing opportunities, and increasing producer income are the end goals of this program. You may receive priority if you are a beginning farmer or rancher, a socially-disadvantaged farmer or rancher, a small or medium-sized farm or ranch structured as a family farm, a farmer or rancher cooperative, or are proposing a mid-tier value chain, as defined in the Program Regulation. Grants are awarded on a competitive basis. Deadline 24 Feb. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Biotechnology Risk Assessment

The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is seeking research grant funding applications in its 'Biotechnology Risk Assessment Grants (BRAG) Program' to support the generation of new information that will assist Federal regulatory agencies in making science-based decisions about the effects of introducing into the environment genetically engineered organisms (GE), including plants, microorganisms (including fungi, bacteria, and viruses), arthropods, fish, birds, mammals and other animals excluding humans. Investigations of effects on both managed and natural environments are relevant. The BRAG program accomplishes its purpose by providing Federal regulatory agencies with scientific information relevant to regulatory issues. Deadline 19 Mar. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Environmental Education Model Grants

EPA is seeking grant funding applications to support environmental education projects that promote environmental stewardship and help develop knowledgeable and responsible students, teachers, and citizens. This grant program provides financial support for projects that design, demonstrate, and/or disseminate environmental education practices, methods, or techniques ... and that will serve as models that can be replicated in a variety of settings. Under this solicitation EPA expects to award environmental education grants from the 10 EPA Regional offices and from Headquarters. Deadline 4 Feb. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Agricultural Innovation Prize

The newly formed Agricultural Innovation Prize: Powered by 40 Chances seeks student innovations to address challenges we face in the food system.  Drawing entries from across all disciplines within US universities, the competition is seeking students to develop innovative plans to address social and agricultural challenges within food systems, improving the standard of living and quality of life for the world’s population. An initial submissions of 2 pages and 10 slides are due online by 28 Feb. Read full announcement

Conferences, Meetings and Reports

(TOP) ~ Healthy soils webinar series

The National Soil Health and Sustainability Team, located at the USDA NRCS East National Technology Support Center, is pleased to offer the following soil health webinars in 2014. Start time for the soil health webinars is 2pm Eastern / 11am Pacific. Get more information

(TOP) ~ Apply Today: Congressional Science Fellowship

Policy minded? If you are an early or mid-career scientist and have an interest in policy issues, consider applying for the ASA, CSSA, and SSSA Congressional Science Fellowship. This Washington DC fellowship can start anytime from September 2014 to January 2015, lasts for one year, and carries a generous stipend plus relocation expenses. Apply by Jan. 15, 2014. Get more information

(TOP) ~ Farm bill conservation practices reduce runoff of nutrients, report

A record number of voluntary conservation practices adopted by Chesapeake Bay farmers since 2006 have significantly reduced the amount of nitrogen, sediment and phosphorus leaving cultivated croplands, according to a new report released today. The report, part of USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) estimates that since 2006, conservation practices applied by farmers and landowners are reducing nitrogen leaving fields by 48.6 million pounds each year, or 26 percent, and reducing phosphorus by 7.1 million pounds, or 46 percent. The report notes that these practices have also lowered the estimated average edge-of-field losses of sediment, or eroded soil, by about 15.1 million tons a year, or 60 percent.The majority of the conservation practices in the Chesapeake Bay were made possible through Farm Bill conservation programs, which are now expired. Read full report

(TOP) ~ The post-GMO economy

In its latest article, the Food & Environment Reporting Network highlights commodity growers across the country who are becoming fed up with genetically modified organism (GMO) traits in seeds. The seeds are not only expensive – GMO corn can cost $150 more per bag than conventional corn – they also mean farmers have to buy and apply more chemicals. Chris Huegerich, an Iowa farmer, is retreating from GMO seeds. “Five years ago the traits worked,” said Huegerich. “I didn’t have corn rootworm because of the Bt gene, and I used less pesticide. Now, the worms are adjusting, and the weeds are resistant. Mother Nature adapts.” Huegerich is finding that the yield and profit margin of his conventional corn crops are higher than that of his GMO crops. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Growing corn can be done sustainably, so why isn’t it?

In the tri-state corner of Minnesota, South Dakota and Iowa, corn growers are using proven methods to cut their carbon footprint. The area has become something of a laboratory for more sustainable corn, with one research team finding that the processes used can cut carbon emissions by more than half the national average. The processes are straightforward: Farmers spread manure from their cattle operations; use GPS to maximize efficiency; intersperse corn with cover crops; and, they practice less tilling. No-till could be the biggest deciding factor in how well a crop can perform. Adding that manure management and livestock integration are the toughest changes to make, and changing tilling practices has been a tough sell to farmers nationwide. Barry Fisher, a state soil health specialist and agronomist with the Agriculture Department's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office in Indiana, said the main barrier is fear of change. Advertising doesn’t help either. "Farmers are no different than shoppers on Black Friday," he said. "There's a lot of advertising on tillage and tillage equipment, and they receive mixed signals from it." Nevertheless, Fisher said farmers know their soils are not functioning as well as they once did, and they are beginning to realize the adoption of low-till and manure management could make up for potential yield losses and improve their soil’s water-holding capacity. "They are really taking to the soil health campaign and the message," Fisher said. "At any time, you can reverse the loss process, you can turn that around."

(TOP) ~ Global R&D forecast

Innovation is improbable without proper funding, which is why, each year, R&D Magazine and Battelle Memorial Institute project how political developments and economic conditions around the globe will affect R&D support in the coming year. Now available, the 2014 R&D Magazine/Battelle Global R&D Funding Forecast offers a comprehensive analysis of the state of industrial research worldwide. Get more information

(TOP) ~ USGS releases tool quantifying county-scale impacts of climate change

Wondering what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's most recent report might mean for your county? The U.S. Geological Survey released an online tool to help. Developed in collaboration with Oregon State University's College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, the tool provides future temperature and precipitation projections for all counties within the contiguous United States. While not meant to be used as a crystal ball, the tool is intended to make the "big black box of climate models and climate projections a bit more accessible," said USGS scientist and project developer Steve Hostetler. "In terms of what you can use it for, I would say it's the first step in getting some idea about the potential climate changes in the future for whatever county you're interested in, as described by a certain group of models," Hostetler said. USGS plans to release a similar map for U.S. watersheds next month. See the tool

(TOP) ~ Accused of harming bees, Bayer researches a different culprit

beesBayer, one of the major producers of a type of pesticide that the European Union has linked to the large-scale die-offs of honeybee populations in North America and Western Europe, “is strictly committed to bee health,” said Gillian Mansfield, an official who specializes in strategic messaging for the company. She works out of the company’s Bee Care Center in Germany; Bayer plans to open another one in the U.S. next year. Neonicotinoids, the pesticide in question, were banned this year for use on many flowering crops in Europe. Bayer, along with Syngenta and BASF, are fighting in European courts to overturn the ban. Not everyone believes Bayer cares about bees. Hans Muilerman, a chemicals expert at Pesticide Action Network Europe, said Bayer does “almost anything that helps their products remaining on the market. Massive lobbying, hiring P.R. firms to frame and spin, inviting commissioners to show their plants and their sustainability. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Fertilizing sustainable farms

In the future, farmers are likely to be faced with growing environmental traceability pressures that are largely driven by major retailers such as Walmart. Walmart, for example, is requiring food companies that use commodity grains to develop a “fertilizer optimization plan” as part of its goal to reduce fertilizer use on 14 million acres in the U.S. by 2020. The company began its fertilizer program by working with groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). EDF and other groups pushed the retailer, which had been focusing its efforts on efficiency and climate efforts at its individual stores, to examine its supply chain for environmental impacts. Jenny Ahlen of EDF said, “they hadn't really addressed their supply chain, which is where we think 90% of their impact actually happens.” The company set a goal to reduce 20 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2015. "When you look at food more closely, fertilizer, particularly nitrogen fertilizer, produces some really powerful greenhouse gases," Ahlen said. Walmart is also looking at issues such as water usage and no-till crop production. Brittni Furrow, a senior manager for sustainability initiatives at Walmart, said, "We're now looking at next year and how we can look at resilient sourcing across commodities.” And it’s not just Walmart. Unilever is working to ensure its soybeans and soy oil are sustainably sourced. Parts of the U.S. dairy industry want to reduce its carbon footprint by 25 percent by 2020. General Mills is also trying to cuts its carbon footprint by committing to be sustainably sourced on ten major commodities that represent more than 50 percent of global purchases. Furrow adds, "We're definitely looking for new opportunities and finding ways to incentivize our suppliers to engage in these activities.”

Congressional/Administration News

(TOP) ~ Budget has been deal reached

Senate Budget Committee Chairman, Patty Murray, and House Budget Committee Chairman, Paul Ryan, announced that a two-year budget agreement has been reached. The bill sets the overall discretionary spending level for FY14 and FY15 and provides some relief from sequestration, increasing discretionary spending by about $63 billion above sequester levels. The deal is far from perfect, but it is a step in the right direction and an important victory for our community that has been actively fighting for a budget agreement that would reduce/eliminate the harmful impacts of sequestration. See the bill summary

(TOP) ~ DOE Strategic Plan from ASA, CSSA, & SSSA

ASA, CSSA, and SSSA have submitted comments on the Draft DOE Strategic Plan for 2014-2018. Three main components of the strategic plan have been addressed. They include the role of agriculture in our energy challenges, support for fundamental biological and environmental scientific research, and attracting and retaining necessary workforce to meet goals. Read full letter

(TOP) ~ House passes farm bill extension that Senate will not take up

dairyThe House passed a short-term extension of the farm bill, a largely symbolic gesture given that the legislation is dead on arrival in the Senate. After only a few minutes of debate, the House dispatched with the extension through a voice vote with just a handful of members present in the House chamber. The legislation, H.R. 3695, would bring the farm bill's expiration date to the end of January. "I believe this short-term extension provides certainty to everyone going into the new year," House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) said on the House floor before the bill was approved. Lucas is currently working with House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson (D-MN), Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Thad Cochran (R-MS) to come up with a framework for a deal that will reconcile the House and Senate versions of the farm bill. The sticking points between the two versions of the bill have been the level of cuts to the food stamp program and the way in which the bills allocate farm subsidies. The extension comes after the Agriculture Department has been warning for several weeks that milk prices will rise if a new farm bill is not passed by the beginning of the year due to Great Depression-era permanent agriculture laws that are still on the books. Those laws compel the department to roll out a supply-side management program beginning Jan. 1 that will affect the dairy industry first.

(TOP) ~ Top negotiators say U.S. farm bill delayed to January

The four top negotiators for the new U.S. farm bill, already a year behind schedule, said they would not complete work until January on the legislation to cut food stamps for the poor and expand crop insurance for farmers. After an hour-long meeting, the leaders said the farm bill would not be ready for action before Congress adjourns for the year. Work on the bill has been delayed repeatedly since mid-2012 by demands for deep cuts in food stamps. Conservatives in the House of Representatives want the largest cuts in a generation, $40 billion over 10 years. The Senate proposed $4.5 billion in cuts in its version of the bill. "We will be ready to vote in January," Debbie Stabenow, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, told reporters. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Farmers may have to pay for conservation help under deal

Farmers and ranchers may have to pay the government for assistance with conservation on their lands under the budget deal unveiled by Sen. Patty Murray and her House counterpart, Rep. Paul Ryan. The deal would authorize the Agriculture Department's Natural Resources Conservation Service to put in place user fees for the conservation technical assistance that it has, until now, offered to farmers and ranchers free of charge. The money from the fees would be collected in a new fund that would be subject to the whim of congressional appropriators, according to the budget language. According to the budget language, USDA would be allowed to charge individual farms up to $150 to provide conservation planning assistance where such fees are "reasonable and appropriate." The bill lays out exemptions for beginning, limited-resource and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. Assistance with conservation measures required by federal, state or local regulations would also be exempt. While the notion of charging farmers for conservation assistance has been raised before in previous years in the context of budget request proposals, it has never made it past the idea stage. Supporters of federal farm conservation programs blasted the provision, warning that it would discourage producers from putting in place conservation practices on their lands.

(TOP) ~ Farm Bill Budget Visualizer

The Farm Bill Budget Visualizer, a project of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, uses interactive “treemap” technology to share information about the budget of the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008: the 2008 Farm Bill. It is the hope that this timely information will be used as a tool by concerned citizens and groups, including advocates, the media and researchers, to help them both to understand the proposed changes in this complex bill and to respond. The Visualizer will also be updated to reflect the contents of the House Committee Bill when it is released, as well as the full Farm Bill that will be voted on by both chambers of Congress. Get more information

(TOP) ~ White House releases new EPA agenda

The White House has released its Fall 2013 Unified Agenda, a document that gives stakeholders a rough preview of what to expect from the various regulatory arms of government in the coming year. Planned regulatory actions from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that will most directly affect agriculture include: A review of the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) rules that were last updated in 2003; A clarifying definition of “waters of the United States,” as the definition of the term determines which bodies are covered by Clean Water Act pollution legislation; Continuation of work on greenhouse gas emission standards for electric utility generating units; Finalize the 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard volume standards; Revise agricultural worker protections against pesticides; Finalize the rule for underground storage tanks; Update the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES); and, Finalize source performance standards for grain elevators. See the unified agenda and See EPA statement of priorities

Sources: Agri-Pulse; ClimateWire; DTN The Progressive Farmer; Energy and Envrionment Daily; Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; Meridian Institute; The New York Times; U.S. Department of Agriculture; U.S. Geological Survey; Reuters

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.