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Science Policy Report

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12 February 2014

In This Issue:

International Corner

~ U.N. calls for funds to avert more crises in African Sahel
~ In drought years, Amazon emits more carbon than it stores, study
~ Boehner doubts immigration overhaul will pass this year
~ The danger of trusting corporations to lead the fight against world hunger
~ Planting crops: CO2 sink or source? New study raises the question
~ Ensuring food security: key resource

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers Program
~ Sustainability Research Networks Competition (SRN) 2014 Focus: Urban Sustainability
~ Plant Genome Research Program
~ FY14 and FY15 Region 08 Wetland Program Development Grants
~ Organic Transitions Program
~ USDA accepts grant applications for conservation innovation efforts

Conferences, Meetings and Reports

~ Global Food Security Symposium 2014 Next Generation Delegation
~ WMO: 2013 among top ten warmest on record
~ Broad-based coalition launched to advocate for congressional action GMO labeling
~ Agribusiness, environmental groups to address soil health
~ Agencies boost water-efficiency funding for California farms
~ The U.S. is losing market share in global science and technology
~ Scientists and policymakers alike agree water availability is a top issue in U.S.
~ The seeds of a new generation

Congressional/Administration News

~ Farm Bill signed into law
~ Vilsack announces regional hubs to help agriculture, forestry
~ New USDA strategy to improve water quality, one targeted watershed at a time
~ Farm bill has some conservation provisions, but climate impacts unclear
~ White House unveils new plan to cope with warming Arctic
~ House committee launches bill to bar 'secret science'

International Corner


(TOP) ~ U.N. calls for funds to avert more crises in African Sahel

african sahelThe United Nations has made an appeal to raise $2 billion to address a humanitarian crisis in the drought-prone Sahel region of West Africa, with nearly half of that reserved for agricultural programs and food assistance. The United Nations launched a three-year Sahel regional strategic response plan, which covers Mauritania, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Gambia. The plan would deploy funds to these countries through December 2016. About $866 million of the $2 billion plan will be reserved to implement early warning climate change systems for farmers; improve access to irrigation, tools and other necessary inputs for growing food; and educate farmers about practices that will allow them to adapt. The rest will go to fund refugee assistance, health, nutrition, education and other programs. Read full report


(TOP) ~ In drought years, Amazon emits more carbon than it stores, study

Long considered one of the most important carbon sinks in the world, the Amazon rainforest can become a net source of carbon (emitting more than it absorbs) in dry years, according to a study published in Nature. With the aid of small taxi planes, the researchers took measurements of three gases (carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and sulfur hexafluoride) between 2010 and 2012. As luck would have it, this period of time covered first an unusually dry year, then a wet year. In the dry year of 2010, fires released roughly two-thirds more carbon into the atmosphere than during wet 2011. In a wet year, the carbon balance was neutral, meaning that the amount of carbon absorbed was equivalent to the amount released into the atmosphere. But in a dry year, the Amazon forest emitted about 500 million metric tons of CO2. The study is critical in understanding the carbon cycle and the policies that rely on it. Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, a mechanism that would pay countries not to cut down forests, relies on assumptions of how much a forest can hold carbon. See the abstract


(TOP) ~ Boehner doubts immigration overhaul will pass this year

Facing growing resistance from conservatives, Speaker John A. Boehner has cast strong doubt that he could pass an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws this year, leaving it to President Obama to win the trust of his balking Republicans. Mr. Boehner began his weekly news conference by saying that for 15 months he had pressed for immigration measures to address border security, new worker programs and the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country. But, he added, “I’ve never underestimated the difficulty in moving forward this year.” Read full article


(TOP) ~ The danger of trusting corporations to lead the fight against world hunger

In this opinion piece, Timothy A. Wise, the Director of the Research and Policy Program at the Global Development and Environment Institute, Tufts University, writes about the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) “New Vision for Agriculture” and the G8’s “New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.” He writes: “For all the newness, the world’s small-scale farmers can be forgiven for seeing little more than new bottles for some old wine, which they still can’t afford. The old wine includes an overwhelming focus on technological solutions, industrial-scale farms, and high-input methods often poorly suited to small-scale farmers. The new bottles, though, look sharp. The labels show happy African farmers in lush fields, and they feature all the right catch-phrases: “sustainable agriculture,” “climate-smart production,” and of course “meeting the world’s food needs.” Read full article


(TOP) ~ Planting crops: CO2 sink or source? New study raises the question

In most of the world, particularly warm tropical areas, planting crops won't have the carbon-storing potential of the forests and savannas that once stood in their place, according to a global map of satellite-derived images in a new study. Agriculture can help mitigate climate change in a few spots on Earth like the American Midwest and northeastern China, areas of intensive, highly productive agriculture. But in almost all of South and Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America, crops have a large carbon storage disadvantage over natural vegetation. The conclusions themselves are not new, but the study, published online in Geophysical Research Letters, marks the first use of the most recent version of NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) satellite data to determine net primary production, the rate at which plants in an ecosystem produce energy. See full study


(TOP) ~ Ensuring food security: key resource

Addressing food security requires looking at multiple phenomena simultaneously- from hunger, livelihoods and nutrition to climate change, gender and market access. The resources detailed in this article provide experience, information and recommendations from a range of experts around the world. Get more information

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities


(TOP) ~ Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers Program

The Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers (I/UCRC) program develops long-term partnerships among industry, academe, and government. The centers are catalyzed by a small investment from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and are primarily supported by industry center members, with NSF taking a supporting role in the development and evolution of the center. Each center is established to conduct research that is of interest to both the industry members and the center faculty. An I/UCRC contributes to the nation's research infrastructure base and enhances the intellectual capacity of the engineering and science workforce through the integration of research and education.  As appropriate, an I/UCRC uses international collaborations to advance these goals within the global context. Deadline 4 Mar. Read full announcement


(TOP) ~ Sustainability Research Networks Competition (SRN) 2014 Focus: Urban Sustainability

The goal of the Sustainability Research Networks (SRN) competition is to bring together multidisciplinary teams of researchers, educators, managers, policymakers and other stakeholders to conduct collaborative research that addresses fundamental challenges in sustainability. The 2014 SRN competition will fund research networks with a focus on urban sustainability. Deadline 29 Apr. Read full announcement


(TOP) ~ Plant Genome Research Program

This program is a continuation of the Plant Genome Research Program (PGRP) that began in FY 1998 as part of the National Plant Genome Initiative (NPGI). Since the inception of the NPGI and the PGRP, there has been a tremendous increase in the availability of functional genomics tools and sequence resources for use in the study of key crop plants and their models. Proposals are welcomed that build on these resources to develop conceptually new and different ideas and strategies to address grand challenge questions in plants of economic importance on a genome-wide scale. There is also a critical need for the development of novel and creative tools to facilitate new experimental approaches or new ways of analyzing genomic data. Especially encouraged are proposals that provide strong and novel training opportunities integral to the research plan and particularly across disciplines that include, but are not limited to, plant physiology, quantitative genetics, biochemistry, bioinformatics and engineering. Deadline 28 Apr. Read full announcement


(TOP) ~ FY14 and FY15 Region 08 Wetland Program Development Grants

Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming - EPA Region 8 is accepting grant funding applications from States, Tribes, local government agencies, interstate agencies, and intertribal consortia to conduct and promote the coordination and acceleration of research, investigations, experiments, training, demonstrations, surveys, and studies relating to the causes, effects, extent, prevention, reduction, and elimination of water pollution. Deadline 7 Apr. Read full announcement


(TOP) ~ Organic Transitions Program

The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is seeking research grant funding applications from colleges and universities for its Organic Transitions Program to support the development and implementation of research, extension and higher education programs to improve the competitiveness of organic livestock and crop producers, as well as those who are adopting organic practices. In FY 2014, ORG will continue to prioritize environmental services provided by organic farming systems in the area of soil conservation and climate change mitigation, including greenhouse gases (GHG). Deadline 4 Apr. Read full announcement


(TOP) ~ USDA accepts grant applications for conservation innovation efforts

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is seeking grant funding applications from eligible governmental or non-governmental organizations or individuals for its Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program which is intended to leverage federal investment in environmental enhancement and protection in conjunction with agricultural production. CIG projects are expected to lead to the transfer of conservation technologies, management systems, and innovative approaches into NRCS policy, technical manuals, guides, and references, or to the private sector. Deadline 7 Mar. Read full announcement

Conferences, Meetings and Reports


(TOP) ~ Global Food Security Symposium 2014 Next Generation Delegation

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is now accepting applications from students to participate in the Global Food Security Symposium 2014 Next Generation Delegation. Convened annually by The Chicago Council, the Global Food Security Symposium discusses the US government and international community’s progress on addressing global food and nutrition security. The Next Generation Delegation program was launched in 2013 to provide an opportunity for promising students to engage in symposium discussions and to interact with policy, civil society, and business leaders working on agriculture, food, and nutrition issues. Get more information


(TOP) ~ WMO: 2013 among top ten warmest on record

2013 was among the top ten warmest years since modern records began in 1850, according to the U.N. World Meteorological Organization which notes that it tied with 2007 as the sixth warmest year, with a global land and ocean surface temperature that was 0.50°C (0.90°F) above the 1961–1990 average and 0.03°C (0.05°F) higher than the most recent 2001–2010 decadal average.  Thirteen of the 14 warmest years on record have all occurred in the 21st century. WMO released the temperature data in advance of its full Statement on the Status of the Climate in 2013, which will be published in March 2014. This will give more extensive details of regional temperatures, precipitation, floods, droughts, tropical cyclones, ice cover and sea-level. Read the press release


(TOP) ~ Broad-based coalition launched to advocate for congressional action GMO labeling

American farmers and a group of almost thirty industry and non-governmental organizations have formed the 'Coalition for Safe Affordable Food' which has urged Congress to quickly seek a federal solution that would establish standards for the safety and labeling of food and beverage products made with genetically modified ingredients (GMOs). See the news release


(TOP) ~ Agribusiness, environmental groups to address soil health

Corn growers announced they are teaming up this year with environmental groups in a partnership to build soil health. Under the partnership, the National Corn Growers Association is creating a science advisory council to develop practices that boost soil health and improve corn yields. The venture is backed by Monsanto Co. and the Walton Family Foundation, and the Nature Conservancy and the Environmental Defense Fund will provide technical support. "The health of a farm depends on the health of its soil, and that's what makes this new program an important one for our organization," NCGA President Martin Barbre said. "We developed the Soil Health Partnership with our partners to help our growers be the best farmers they can be." The council will work to build a network of demonstration farms in corn states, develop soil management recommendations for farmers and increase awareness of soil health, NCGA said. Among the experts chosen for the council are researchers from the Agriculture Department and soil professors. "We hope that this innovative partnership will help lead to widespread adoption of conservation practices that improve soil health and ultimately improve water quality at a watershed scale," said Sean McMahon, the Nature Conservancy's North America agriculture program director.


(TOP) ~ Agencies boost water-efficiency funding for California farms

The Bureau of Reclamation and the Natural Resources Conservation Service have announced $14 million in funding for agricultural water efficiency improvement projects. The announcement follows a $20 million pledge by Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack for farmers hit hard by California's record drought. Reclamation Commissioner Michael Connor announced the funding at a news conference on interagency cooperation related to the drought. He said that the agricultural water efficiency program has been in place for three years but that the agencies are giving it a boost now. Reclamation also released its 2014 plan for the Central Valley Project, which covers some 400 miles and provides water to farms and homes in California's Central Valley as well as the San Francisco Bay Area. The plan, developed in coordination with a variety of stakeholders, includes near- and midterm actions to address the dwindling water supply. Many of the near-term recommendations relate to updating models or using new indexes, which Mark Cowin, director of California's Department of Water Resources, said would help increase the system's efficiency. See the plan


(TOP) ~ The U.S. is losing market share in global science and technology

science researchThe National Science Board's 2014 set of indicators, which tracks the state of science-related funding, public attitudes, and education in the U.S. and abroad, just dropped, in all its 600-page glory. There are a ton of interesting bits scattered throughout the report, but the big takeaway is how America's doing in relation to the rest of the world: Not great, at least in terms of the percentage of the world's research funding comes from here. Read full article or check out the NSF press release and LA Times article


(TOP) ~ Scientists and policymakers alike agree water availability is a top issue in U.S.

As water wars ramp up in California and other drought-plagued Western states, it comes as no surprise that both researchers and policymakers are worried about whether there will be enough water to go around for farmers, municipalities, ecosystems and other users in the coming years. A survey of more than 600 environmental decisionmakers and scientists identified the study of water availability in the United States as the No. 1 policy-relevant research priority for natural resources management over the next decade. The survey results were published in the journal BioScience. But the survey was administered between October 2011 and April 2012, even before the impacts of the 2012 drought in the U.S. Midwest and California's current drought emergency began driving controversies over how to apportion the remaining water resources. According to the paper's authors, the desire for a better understanding of water availability in the United States has likely increased since the survey concluded. See the survey


(TOP) ~ The seeds of a new generation

A growing group of corn farmers is slowly transitioning to another type of farming that is proving to be more lucrative: other vegetables and fruit. An acre of corn nets the average farmer $284 this year after expenses; an apple orchard on that same acre could net $2,000 or more. A sophisticated vegetable operation could push that figure as high as $100,000. The rising demand for fresh, local produce has helped spawn new markets and made it possible for Midwestern farmers to give fruits and vegetables a go. And such a shift in the Midwest could lessen the country’s dependence on California - which dominates vegetable production - cut carbon emissions from trucking, make produce available to more people, and increase its appeal via freshness and even lower prices. Read full article

Congressional/Administration News


(TOP) ~ Farm Bill signed into law

After nearly three years of work, President Obama signed the Farm Bill into law at an event at Michigan State University, the alma mater of Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who helped broker the hard-fought farm bill compromise after years of setbacks. There are several research components that are of interest. Most notably, the Farm Bill authorizes the creation of a new nonprofit foundation, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, that that will work to foster new partnerships with private stakeholders and generate additional sources of funding for food, agriculture and natural resources research. The Farm Bill also includes mandatory funding for several research initiatives that have been unfunded since the previous Farm Bill expired in October 2012. Now that the Farm Bill has passed, programs like the specialty crops and organic agriculture research initiatives will once again receive mandatory funding for the next five years. Read press release and read more about how the Farm Bill affects the research community in ScienceInsider


(TOP) ~ Vilsack announces regional hubs to help agriculture, forestry

USDA has announced the creation of 'Regional Hubs for Risk Adaptation and Mitigation to Climate Change' at seven locations around the country [Ames, Iowa; Durham, New Hampshire; Raleigh, North Carolina; Fort Collins, Colorado; El Reno, Oklahoma; Corvallis, Oregon; and Las Cruces, New Mexico]. 'Climate Hubs' will address increasing risks such as fires, invasive pests, devastating floods, and crippling droughts on a regional basis, aiming to translate science and research into information to farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners on ways to adapt and adjust their resource management. In addition to the seven Hubs, USDA is designating three Subsidiary Hubs ("Sub Hubs") that will support the Hub within their region and focus on a narrow and unique set of issues relative to what will be going on in the rest of the Hub. See the news release


(TOP) ~ New USDA strategy to improve water quality, one targeted watershed at a time

water qualityWater quality in the United States remains a major environmental and policy challenge. Water pollution is also a growing and serious problem across much of the world. Tackling water quality problems, particularly from diffuse sources such as agricultural farm fields, is a substantial challenge and much can be learned from the U.S. experience. More than 15,000 streams, rivers, and lakes in the United States are too polluted with nutrient runoff to support wildlife, be enjoyed recreationally, or serve as a drinking water source. Few programs have seen widespread success in tackling either local or the Gulf’s growing water quality problems, but an emerging initiative could present a way forward. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI) in 2009. New WRI research finds that with some specific improvements, the MRBI’s new approach could play a key role in improving the nation’s inland and coastal water quality. Read blog post and See full paper


(TOP) ~ Farm bill has some conservation provisions, but climate impacts unclear

The 2014 farm bill offers some conservation provisions that could encourage climate mitigation practices, experts said, but it's hard to tell whether these amendments will lead to clear greenhouse gas reductions. "The farm bill itself doesn't have a lot of direct relation with climate, but indirectly, it can," said Otto Doering, a professor at Purdue University. The bill requires that farmers refrain from clearing wetlands and native grasslands to plant crops to qualify for federal crop insurance. It also offers nearly $900 million for renewable energy and biofuels programs. This farm bill gives the strongest support to date to the returns that farmers get from their crops. Its efforts to tie conservation to crop insurance could also help, if they provide a cushion and remove incentives to plow more land. The new bill also prioritizes the effort by the Agriculture Department's Natural Resources Conservation Service to control excess nutrients, primarily nitrogen. This has implications for nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas with nearly 300 times the global warming impact of carbon dioxide. "What we're seeing is, increasingly, NRCS is making nutrients and improving nutrient-use efficiency a priority," said Doering. NRCS's general funding has decreased as part of the $6 billion cut in conservation programs, Doering said. The Conservation Reserve Program has also decreased from 32 million to 24 million acres. Nevertheless, Mark Tercek, CEO of the Nature Conservancy, called the bill "one of the strongest ever for conservation and forestry" in a statement. "Farm bill programs support clean air and water, productive soils and food security, and this bill's conservation provisions are practical, cost-effective and provide solid tools and resources for individual landowners. They enable growers to do what they want to do -- be good stewards of the land," he said. About $1 billion in funding will go the new Agricultural Lands Easement program, a combination of the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program and Grassland Reserve Program.


(TOP) ~ White House unveils new plan to cope with warming Arctic

The White House released an updated Arctic strategy calling for improved infrastructure, additional scientific research and policy changes in the rapidly warming region. The implementation plan prompted mixed reviews from analysts, who said it may help in nudging policies that have so far moved at a slow pace but also may face stagnation without new dollar commitments. It is a follow-up to a White House Arctic strategy released last year and specifies dates for completion of everything from joint oil spill exercises with Canada to risk assessments on ocean acidification. "The implementation plan reflects the reality of a changing Arctic environment and upholds national interests in safety, security and environmental protection," the White House said. See full plan


(TOP) ~ House committee launches bill to bar 'secret science'

Saying that U.S. EPA needs to do more to be transparent with the scientific backing for its regulations, Republicans on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee introduced a bill to tamp down on "secret science." Under the bill, the agency would be prohibited from releasing a regulation or related action without publicly disclosing the technical backing. "Public policy should come from public data, not based on the whims of far-left environmental groups," said Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Science panel's environment subcommittee. "For far too long, the EPA has approved regulations that have placed a crippling financial burden on economic growth in this country with no public evidence to justify their actions." Scientific transparency has long been an issue for the committee. The committee has said that independent scientists are not able to properly duplicate EPA's reasoning. The bill, they say, is in line with recommendations from the Obama administration's own science advisers, as well as the Bipartisan Policy Center and several scientific journals. At a November hearing before the committee, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy defended the process as "well-done and credible" and rejected accusations that it had not been reviewed by balanced panels. "Science is the backbone of our decisionmaking, and our work is based on the principles of scientific integrity and transparency that are both expected and deserved by the American people."

Sources: AWARD; Chicago Council on Global Affairs; Climatewire; Greenwire; LA Times; Meridian Institute; National Science Foundation; The New York Times; USDA; The Washington Post; World Resources Institute

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.