Science Policy Report

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01 January 2014

In This Issue:

International Corner

~ UNL research raises concerns about future global crop yield projections
~ Immigration reform moves to the top of Congress’s to-do list
~ Lost freshwater may double climate change effects on agriculture
~ Scientists discover giant aquifer underneath Greenland's ice sheet

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ NIFA Request for Applications for AFRI Foundational Program
~ U.S. Efforts to Restore Great Lakes Coastal Habitats
~ NSF seeking new Assistant Director for its Biological Sciences Directorate
~ Resident Instruction for Institutions of Higher Education in Insular Areas
~ Human and Ecological Health Impacts Associated with Water Reuse and Conservation Practices
~ Coastal Science Engineering and Education for Sustainability
~ Dimensions of Biodiversity FY2014
~ Major Research Instrumentation Program
~ EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement Program: Track-2

Conferences, Meetings and Reports

~ Apply Today: Congressional Science Fellowship
~ Apply now for the Future Leaders in Science Award
~ Be a voice for research and email your members of Congress today
~ Some plants may not adapt quickly to future climate change
~ Federal efforts under way to assess water infrastructure vulnerabilities
~ Abrupt climate change and its impacts, webinar
~ Start-up uses plants seeds for a biofuel
~ Cutting down certain forests could help cool planet, study
~ Top scientific discoveries of 2013
~ Why we will need genetically modified foods

Congressional/Administration News

~ DOE Strategic Plan from ASA, CSSA, & SSSA
~ Feinstein to Obama: move without Congress on GMOs
~ Small-acre crops and the farm bill
~ A one-stop shop for organics, with lots in store
~ Top 10 lobbying victories of 2013
~ Interior announces $7M in grants for adaptation research
~ Farm bill provision could quash all new rules not based on 'sound science'

International Corner

(TOP) ~ UNL research raises concerns about future global crop yield projections

About 30 percent of the major global cereal crops (rice, wheat and corn) may have reached their maximum possible yields in farmers' fields, according to University of Nebraska-Lincoln research published in Nature Communications. These findings raise concerns about efforts to increase food production to meet growing global populations. Yields of these crops have recently decreased or plateaued. Future projections that would ensure global food security are typically based on a constant increase in yield, a trend that this research now suggests may not be possible. Estimates of future global food production and its ability to meet the dietary needs of a population expected to grow from 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050 have been based largely on projections of historical trends. Past trends have, however, been dominated by the rapid adoption of new technologies which allowed for an increase in crop production. The authors report that sustaining further yield gain likely would require fine tuning of many different factors in the production of crops. But this is often difficult to achieve in farmers' fields and the associated marginal costs, labor requirements, risks and environmental impacts may outweigh the benefits. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Immigration reform moves to the top of Congress’s to-do list

In this editorial, The Washington Post writes that House Republicans who have dug their heels in over immigration reform may be running out of excuses: Congress has passed a budget deal; Republican Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey recently signed a bill allowing in-state college tuition subsidies for undocumented students; and, a new survey by the Pew Research Center found that Hispanics overwhelming say it is more important to allow unauthorized immigrants to live in the country without fear of deportation than to put them on a path to citizenship. “That idea (granting legal status short of citizenship to illegal immigrants) has been percolating in Washington for months,” the editors write. “The fact that it is backed by a majority of Latinos, who are the nation’s largest minority group as well as the largest chunk of illegal immigrants, provides an opening for compromise in Congress, if both sides will take it.” Read full article

(TOP) ~ Lost freshwater may double climate change effects on agriculture

freshwaterA new analysis, featured in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, combines climate, agricultural, and hydrological models and finds that shortages of freshwater used for irrigation could double the detrimental effects of climate change on agriculture. Agricultural models based on the present trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions have estimated climate change will reduce food production from maize, soybeans, wheat and rice by as much as 43 percent by the end of the century. But hydrological models predict even further agricultural losses due to the reversion of 20 to 60 million hectares of currently irrigated fields back to rain-fed crops. While the models predict freshwater shortages in some areas of the world, such as the western United States, India, and China, other regions may end up with a surplus. Redistributing this excess water, Elliott said, to restore or add irrigation to rain-fed crop areas, could dampen some of the consequences of climate change upon irrigation and agriculture. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Scientists discover giant aquifer underneath Greenland's ice sheet

In April 2011, researchers on the Greenland ice sheet were drilling an ice core, trying to understand how much snow accumulates on the sheet each year. About 30 feet down they hit water. "There was just water gushing out of the core itself," said Richard Forster, a glaciologist at the University of Utah whose students were among those drilling the core. "So that was a complete surprise -- we weren't expecting anything like that at all." It turns out the team had happened upon a giant aquifer. At 27,000 square miles, it's larger than the state of West Virginia, buried underneath the snow covering the ice sheet. Their finding was published in the journal Nature Geoscience. Prior to this discovery, scientists had no idea this aquifer existed, Forster said. The Greenland ice sheet is incredibly large, covering a land area the size of Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah combined. The discovery has the potential to change researchers' understanding of how ice melt from the Greenland ice sheet contributes to sea-level rise. The aquifer is located in a type of snow called firn. Firn, a name originating from a Swiss German word meaning "last year's," is snow from years past that has compacted but not yet turned into glacier ice.

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

(TOP) ~ NIFA Request for Applications for AFRI Foundational Program

Agricultural Research Grant applications are sought by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) in six priority areas: plant health and production and plant products; animal health and production and animal products; food safety, nutrition and health; renewable energy, natural resources and environment; agriculture systems and technology; and agriculture economics and rural communities. Deadline 29 Sep. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ U.S. Efforts to Restore Great Lakes Coastal Habitats

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is accepting grant funding applications for projects which have strong on-the-ground habitat restoration components that provide social and economic benefits for people and their communities in addition to long-term ecological habitat improvements. Through this solicitation, NOAA seeks to openly compete funding available for habitat restoration in U.S. Great Lakes Areas of Concern under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Deadline 26 Feb. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ NSF seeking new Assistant Director for its Biological Sciences Directorate

We are initiating a national search for the National Science Foundation’s Assistant Director for Biological Sciences (BIO), and seek your assistance in the identification of candidates. Dr. John Wingfield has served in this position, with distinction, since September 2011. The Assistant Director, BIO, manages a Directorate comprising the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB), the Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI), the Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS), the Division of Environmental Biology (DEB), and the Emerging Frontiers Office (EF). Get more information

(TOP) ~ Resident Instruction for Institutions of Higher Education in Insular Areas

The purpose of this program is to promote and strengthen the ability of Insular Area Institutions to carry out teaching and education programs within a broadly defined arena of food and agricultural sciences-related disciplines. By strengthening institutional educational capacities in instruction and curriculum, and enhancing the quality of teaching and learning, NIFA intends that this program will help Insular Area Institutions meet their unique needs. This program also will assist Insular Area Institutions to make more efficient use of existing educational funds by providing resources for partnerships between faculties at Insular Area and mainland institutions. Deadline 7 Mar. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Human and Ecological Health Impacts Associated with Water Reuse and Conservation Practices

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as part of its Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program, is seeking applications to conduct research on and demonstration of human and ecological impacts of treated wastewater applications (reclaimed water and wastewater reuse), and water conservation practices including the use of non-traditional water sources as well as more comprehensive long-term management and availability of water resources. Deadline 18 Feb. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Coastal Science Engineering and Education for Sustainability

Coastal SEES is focused on the sustainability of coastal systems. For this solicitation we define coastal systems as the swath of land closely connected to the sea, including barrier islands, wetlands, mudflats, beaches, estuaries, cities, towns, recreational areas, and maritime facilities; the continental seas and shelves; and the overlying atmosphere. Deadline 21 Jan. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Dimensions of Biodiversity FY2014

The goal of the Dimensions of Biodiversity campaign is to transform, by 2020, how we describe and understand the scope and role of life on Earth. The campaign promotes novel, integrated approaches to identify and understand the evolutionary and ecological significance of biodiversity amidst the changing environment of the present day and in the geologic past. Deadline 3 Apr. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Major Research Instrumentation Program

The Major Research Instrumentation Program (MRI) serves to increase access to shared scientific and engineering instruments for research and research training in our Nation's institutions of higher education, and not-for-profit museums, science centers and scientific/engineering research organizations. This program especially seeks to improve the quality and expand the scope of research and research training in science and engineering, by supporting proposals for shared instrumentation. Deadline 23 Jan. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement Program: Track-2

The Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) is a program designed to fulfill the National Science Foundation's (NSF) mandate to promote scientific progress nationwide. The EPSCoR program is directed at jurisdictions that have historically received lesser amounts of NSF Research and Development (R&D) funding. Deadline 29 Jan. Read full announcement

Conferences, Meetings and Reports

(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) ~ Apply now for the Future Leaders in Science Award

Every spring, ASA, CSSA and SSSA bring graduate students to Washington, DC to meet with their Congressional delegation and raise awareness and support for agricultural and environmental research. The second annual Future Leaders in Science Award provides graduate student members with the opportunity to help shape science policy and gain first-hand experience communicating with elected officials. Graduate students who are selected will win a trip to DC to participate in the 2014 Congressional Visits Day (CVD) on March 24-25. Applicants should have a strong interest in science policy, outstanding interpersonal skills and the ability to communicate effectively with non-scientific audiences. Find more details on the CVD FAQ page. To apply for the 2014 Future Leaders in Science Award, please fill out the application. The application deadline is 15 Jan.

(TOP) ~ Be a voice for research and email your members of Congress today

Congress has taken a major step forward in restoring order to the federal budget and appropriations process. The bipartisan budget agreement sets the overall discretionary spending levels for FY2014 and FY2015; paving the way for passage of appropriations bills through regular order. Mostly notably, the budget deal provides some relief from the across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration, increasing overall discretionary spending by about $63 billion above sequester levels. The reprieve from sequestration for the next two fiscal years is a tremendous victory for our community and shows the power of grassroots advocacy. However, the budget battle is not yet finished. Over the next few weeks, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees are working to finalize FY2014 funding levels for the National Science Foundation and USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) and Agricultural Research Service (ARS). There is a very short window of opportunity to influence budget priorities during these negotiations. You have a unique opportunity to impact the future of research by contacting your members of Congress and asking them to support research funding agencies in FY2014. To email your members of Congress in support of AFRI and ARS click here. To email your members of Congress in support of NSF click here.

(TOP) ~ Some plants may not adapt quickly to future climate change

Using the largest dated evolutionary tree of flowering plants ever assembled, a new study suggests how plants developed traits to withstand low temperatures, with implications that human-induced climate change may pose a bigger threat than initially thought to plants and global agriculture. The study appearing in the journal Nature and co-authored by University of Florida scientists shows many angiosperms, or flowering plants, evolved mechanisms to cope with freezing temperatures as they radiated into nearly every climate during pre-historic times. Researchers found the plants likely acquired many of these adaptive traits prior to their movement into colder regions. The study also suggests some modern angiosperms, including most flowering plants, trees and agricultural crops, may not have the traits needed to rapidly respond to human-induced climate change. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Federal efforts under way to assess water infrastructure vulnerabilities

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a report which states that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has completed a high-level assessment of the vulnerabilities to climate change of various agency missions. The assessment found, for example, that the effects of increasing air temperatures on glaciers could negatively impact mission areas including navigation and flood damage reduction. The Corps has also conducted pilot studies to help identify adaptation guidance and strategies; it has completed 5 of the 15 pilot studies initiated and plans to start another study in 2013. The Department of the Interior's Bureau of Reclamation has completed baseline assessments of the potential impacts of climate change on future water supplies for the major river basins where it owns and operates water management infrastructure. Reclamation, in collaboration with nonfederal entities, is now conducting more focused assessments, known as Basin Studies, through which Reclamation seeks to identify water supply vulnerabilities and project future climate change impacts on the performance of water infrastructure. See full report

(TOP) ~ Abrupt climate change and its impacts, webinar

The National Research Council of the National Academies has scheduled a webinar for January 10, 2014 during which several members of its committee will summarize the important highlights from its December 2013 report that examines the current state of knowledge on potential abrupt changes to the ocean, atmosphere, ecosystems, and high latitude areas, and identifies key research and monitoring needs. The report calls for action to develop an abrupt change early warning system to help anticipate future abrupt changes and reduce their impacts. Get more information

(TOP) ~ Start-up uses plants seeds for a biofuel

plant seedsJatropha, a drought-resistant plant that produces seeds containing high-quality oil, was hailed six years ago as the next big thing in biofuels. The plant attracted hundreds of millions of dollars in investment, but fell from favor as the recession set in and as growers discovered the bush yielded too few seeds to produce enough petroleum to be profitable. One biofuels company, SGB, however, pressed on. Advances in molecular genetics and DNA sequencing technology helped the company domesticate jatropha in just a few years, instead of decades. The company is now growing strains of the plant that produce biofuel in quantities it says are competitive with petroleum priced at $99 a barrel. SGB has deals to plant 250,000 acres of jatropha in Brazil, India and other countries. Jim Rekoske, vice president for renewable energy and chemicals at Honeywell, said, “It is one of the few biofuels that I think has the potential to supply a large fraction of the aviation fuel currently used today.” Read full article

(TOP) ~ Cutting down certain forests could help cool planet, study

Millions of acres of forest are wiped out every year, cut down to make room for agriculture and, increasingly, urban growth. Such deforestation is a major contributor of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, responsible for 17 percent of the heat-trapping greenhouse gases that are warming the planet. But now two Dartmouth College researchers are suggesting that in limited circumstances, the cooling value of an open, snowy field may be greater than the climate benefits that a stand of trees can provide. In the short term, such knowledge would be useful in forestry management. In the longer term, nations with vast expanses of snowfields that reflect heat back into space might seek to be credited for that contribution to reducing global warming during international climate negotiations. In places where snow remains on the ground for considerable lengths of time and trees grow slowly, limiting the amount of carbon they can take in, it might make sense to take down trees sooner rather than later and leave fields unplanted longer. The study authors noted that there is a body of research that shows that cutting down boreal forests can produce "net climatic benefits." Climate change may alter the equation. The warming planet will have less snow and shorter winters, reducing the albedo that could help cool it. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Top scientific discoveries of 2013

In terms of scientific discoveries, 2012 was a hard act to follow. This year didn't offer anything quite as dramatic as the long-awaited discovery of the Higgs boson or another rover landing safely on Mars, but it still had its share of highlights, from see-through brains, to electronic sensors designed to work inside the body, to puzzling revelations about dark matter. Here are our picks for the top discoveries, advances and other developments that shook up science this year. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Why we will need genetically modified foods

In this article, author David Rotman writes that climate change will make it increasingly difficult to feed the world. Biotechnology crops, he says, will have an essential role in ensuring there is enough to eat. Rotman’s article begins in Ireland at the headquarters of Teagasc, the country’s agricultural agency. Scientists at Teagasc have genetically engineered potatoes to resist blight. Despite the heavy use of fungicides on potato crops, late blight and other diseases ruin a fifth of the world’s potatoes. And, although agricultural productivity has improved dramatically over the past 50 years, crops continue to be threatened by various pests and diseases. Stem rust is one that threatens the world wheat crop; bananas are often destroyed by wilt disease. In all these cases, Rotman writes, “genetic engineering has the potential to create varieties that are far better able to withstand the onslaught.” Read full article

Congressional/Administration News

(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) ~ Feinstein to Obama: move without Congress on GMOs

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is urging President Obama to use the power of his office to require labels on food containing genetically engineered ingredients. Legislation pending in both the House and Senate would force companies to tell consumers which products contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs), though there is no clear path forward in the divided Congress. Major agriculture and biotechnology firms oppose the effort, and have poured millions of dollars into campaigns to defeat state ballot initiatives seeking to mandate a labeling system. But Feinstein contends that imposing a federal labeling system could be achieved through a simple directive from the president to his Food and Drug Administration. Food safety advocates have long said the FDA has the authority to enact mandatory labels in lieu of congressional action, and contend that consumers have a right to know what’s in their food. But industry groups say GMO products, widely used for years, are perfectly safe. Mandatory labels would only serve to prejudice consumers against important technological advancements. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Small-acre crops and the farm bill

In this article in Politico, David Rogers writes about the world of sorghum, or milo, all grown up and well, almost cool. It’s a window, he adds, into the survival politics of small crops trying to make it in a world dominated by corn. The powerful corn-and-beans lobby works hard to shape the farm bill’s new commodity title. And it works, as after corn, cotton, rice and wheat, just seven percent of program acres and four percent of receipts are left for the likes of sorghum, barley, oats, sunflower seed, dry peas, lentils, canola and peanuts. Adds Tim Lust, the CEO for the National Sorghum Producers, “We compete against corn and soybeans in the North. We compete against cotton in the South. It’s an industry, and if you lose too many acres, you lose the capital investment that goes with that.” Read full article

(TOP) ~ A one-stop shop for organics, with lots in store

organicsUSDA has created a centralized web resource center for all the programs, services, and data the Agency has that support organic agriculture. Organic operations (and those considering transitioning to organic) can: learn about improved organic crop and livestock insurance; view local and national organic commodity price reports and other economic data; and identify additional export markets for their products. They can access credit and cost-sharing assistance through traditional farm loans, more flexible microloans, and conservation programs that reimburse farmers for implementing environmentally-friendly practices. Read the blog

(TOP) ~ Top 10 lobbying victories of 2013

The influence industry had a tough slog in 2013 as Congress recorded one of the most unproductive years in history. With major initiatives on immigration and taxes stalled, lobbyists scored many of their biggest wins while playing defense on legislation and regulations. Gun rights groups beat back universal background checks for firearm sales; business groups persuaded the White House to delay ObamaCare’s employer mandate; and airlines and defense contractors were able to reverse federal spending cuts. Take a look at the top 10 lobbying victories of 2013, and the trade groups and unions that can claim a share of the credit. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Interior announces $7M in grants for adaptation research

The Interior Department announced it has awarded $7 million to universities and other partners for research into how climate change will affect lands and wildlife, and how land managers should respond. The more than 50 studies will help guide management actions at parks, refuges, cultural sites and other natural areas that will help wildlife and their habitat adapt to droughts, floods, sea-level rise and other climate stressors. The funding was issued by Interior's eight regional climate science centers using fiscal 2013 appropriations. The research is part of President Obama's Climate Action Plan, which seeks to both reduce emissions of global warming gases and prepare communities for unavoidable climate change. See list of projects

(TOP) ~ Farm bill provision could quash all new rules not based on 'sound science'

A provision that could make its way into the final farm bill would require federal agencies to adopt broad new scientific guidelines and make it easier for regulated entities to challenge environmental rules. The provision, tucked in the last few pages of the 702-page House farm bill, would require federal regulators to use "sound science" when promulgating rules, guidances and other agency actions. It would deem any agency actions that fall outside those guidelines as arbitrary and capricious, opening up more rules to litigation. Supporters of the provision, which was also introduced as a stand-alone bill earlier this year, say it's necessary to stop federal agencies that are not using hard science when putting in place rules. It's one of several anti-regulatory provisions contained in the House version of the farm bill. But opponents, including several environmental groups, say the measure would completely rewrite the way in which federal agencies like U.S. EPA use science in rulemaking, delay the rollout of new regulations and give companies broader leverage in challenging rules in court. "We see this as having a pretty profound anti-regulatory impact," said Amit Narang, a regulatory policy advocate at Public Citizen. "The broad takeaway here is that this provision is not designed to improve agency science. It's designed to make it easier to challenge agency science."

Sources: Climatewire; Environment & Energy Daily; Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; Food Industry Environmental Network, LLC; The Hill; Meridian Institute; The New York Times; Politico; Science Daily; 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.

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.