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Science Policy Report

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Note: Due to a system upgrade, there will be no Science Policy Report on May 17. The next SPR will be posted on May 31.

Thank you, The Science Policy Office team.

26 February 2014

In This Issue:

International Corner

~ 18 million farmers in 27 countries chose biotech crops in 2013
~ French government places temporary ban on GM maize
~ Online map of real-time deforestation is geared to use by non-experts
~ Measures at farm level to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from EU agriculture
~ El Niño poised to return, affect global food production
~ Kerry toughens climate message in Indonesia

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ Environmental Technology Demonstrations
~ Innovation Corps Teams Program
~ FY14 Region 9 Wetland Program Development
~ AFRI: Water for Agriculture Challenge Area
~ 40 Chances Fellows program
~ Community Climate Change Fellowship
~ Long-Term Ecological Research

Conferences, Meetings and Reports

~ Call for nominations: ASA, CSSA, & SSSA awards
~ Agricultural technologies could increase global crop yields as much as 67 percent
~ GMA unifies food industry in GMO label fight
~ We need G.M.O. wheat
~ A new tool for identifying key soybean genes
~ US Agricultural Statistical Data
~ Farmers see more benefits from growing covers, but few choose to grow them
~ Collaboration makes nutrient resource use more efficient
~ Genetically engineered crops in the United States
~ NSTA virtual conference: NGSS practices in action

Congressional/Administration News

~ Washington week ahead: drought issue hovering over lawmakers
~ Research money small but vital part of farm bill
~ Support for the Golden Goose Award
~ EPA proposes new safety measures to protect farm workers from pesticide exposure
~ New ARS administrator appointed
~ U.S. GMO crops show mix of benefits, concerns, USDA report
~ Immigration reform, important for agriculture

International Corner


(TOP) ~ 18 million farmers in 27 countries chose biotech crops in 2013

'Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2013' is the title of a report released by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) which notes that  more than 18 million farmers in 27 countries planted biotech crops in 2013, reflecting a five million, or three percent, increase in global biotech crop hectarage. 2013 also marks the first-ever commercial plantings of drought-tolerant biotech maize in the United States. Global biotech crop hectarage has increased from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to over 175 million hectares in 2013. During this 18 year period, more than a 100-fold increase of commercial biotech crop hectarage has been reported. The United States continues to lead global biotech crop plantings at 70.1 million hectares or 40 percent of total global hectares. See press release


(TOP) ~ French government places temporary ban on GM maize

The French government has instituted a temporary ban on the planting of genetically modified maize, while continuing to work on passing a longer-term legal ban. The state has opposed the use of genetically modified organisms since the previous Conservative government but saw its efforts at permanently banning the crop stymied by a surprise French Senate vote that rejected a proposed domestic ban on constitutional grounds.The government decree asserts a temporary ban that will follow a three-week consultation period, preventing any sowing of GM maize by farmers before a permanent law banning the planting of genetically modified crops can be passed. France is also trying to set a precedent that will allow other European countries to legally ban the use of such crops. "We need to give a legal framework to those countries that do not wish to see GM maize grown," said French Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll. Read full article


(TOP) ~ Online map of real-time deforestation is geared to use by non-experts

An online forests map launched will exhibit the most accurate and easily accessible information on global deforestation to date, said collaborators on the project. The World Resources Institute, along with more than 40 partners, is touting the online map as the first near-real-time, easy-to-use forest monitoring and alert system. "You don't need a Ph.D in astrophysics to understand and use Global Forest Watch; you don't need to be an expert in geographic information systems to navigate your way through here and understand what is happening in a place that you care about," said Nigel Sizer, director of the World Resources Institute's Global Forest Initiative. The map combines a number of forest monitoring systems already in existence. These include the University of Maryland's Global Forest Cover and Change Map, the Center for Global Development's Forest Monitoring for Action (FORMA) and data used by the Brazilian government to track the Amazon. It also incorporates official data on the biggest drivers of deforestation and a database on protected areas like national parks. See the map


(TOP) ~ Measures at farm level to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from EU agriculture

'Measures at Farm Level to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions from EU Agriculture' is the title of a report released by the European Parliament's Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development which contains two notes, drawn up within the framework of a Workshop held on January 21, 2014 in Brussels. The first note provides a comprehensive analysis of the impact of mitigation options at farm level, in order to provide decision-makers with recommendations and policy-relevant advice, particularly within the framework of the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform. The second note presents ten measures that were proposed to reduce GHG emissions from the agricultural sector, and to analyze to what extent the new [CAP] is likely to support their implementation. See full report


(TOP) ~ El Niño poised to return, affect global food production

el ninoEl Niño, a weather pattern that can unleash droughts and floods across the world, may be back this year to threaten key crops such as wheat, rice and sugar. "The world is bracing for El Niño, which if confirmed could wreak havoc on supply and cause prices of some commodities to shoot up," said Vanessa Tan, investment analyst at Phillip Futures in Singapore. Australia's Bureau of Meteorology and the U.S. Climate Prediction Center have warned there is a good chance one will strike this year. And last month, the United Nations' World Meteorological Organization said there was an "enhanced possibility" of a weak El Niño by the middle of 2014. The predictions come as many crops already have been crippled by adverse weather conditions. The looming threat of El Niño has caused global cocoa prices to reach a two-and-a-half-year peak due to concerns that dry weather in the essential African and Asian growing regions could create a worldwide deficit. Read full article


(TOP) ~ Kerry toughens climate message in Indonesia

Secretary of State John Kerry delivered what some called the strongest call to action on climate change of his career, declaring that global warming is now "the world's most fearsome weapon of mass destruction." Speaking to an audience in Jakarta, Indonesia, toward the end of a climate-heavy tour through Asia, Kerry blasted the "shoddy scientists and extreme ideologues" who cast doubt on the evidence of rising global temperatures. A longtime environmental activist throughout his U.S. Senate career, Kerry delved into the intricacies of the greenhouse effect, painted a picture of the threats from the low-lying archipelago of Indonesia to the Philippines still recovering from Typhoon Haiyan and bemoaned the static international politics around climate change over the past 20 years. He pledged tougher U.S. action but warned that developing countries can no longer get a "free pass" to continue rampant climate pollution. Jakarta seemed made to order for Kerry's more strident message. Indonesia is one of the world's top emitters because it has been unable to stop rampant slash-and-burn destruction of its forests by companies intent on clearing land for more palm oil plantations. It may also be one of the globe's chief victims of climate change, likely to lose some of its islands and even parts of low-lying Jakarta as more powerful storms and rising sea levels exact their toll.

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities


(TOP) ~ Environmental Technology Demonstrations

The Department of Defense (DoD), through the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP), supports the demonstration of technologies that address priority DoD environmental requirements.  The goal of ESTCP is to promote the transfer of innovative environmental technologies through demonstrations that collect the data needed for regulatory and DoD end-user acceptance.  Projects conduct formal demonstrations at DoD facilities and sites in operational settings to document and validate improved performance and cost savings.  ESTCP is seeking proposals for innovative environmental technology demonstrations as candidates for funding beginning in FY2015.  This solicitation requests pre-proposals via Calls for Proposals to Federal organizations and via a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) for Private Sector organizations. Deadline 1 Apr. Read full announcement


(TOP) ~ Innovation Corps Teams Program

The National Science Foundation (NSF) seeks to develop and nurture a national innovation ecosystem that builds upon fundamental research to guide the output of scientific discoveries closer to the development of technologies, products and processes that benefit society. In order to jumpstart a national innovation ecosystem, NSF has established the NSF Innovation Corps Teams Program (NSF I-Corps Teams). The NSF I-Corps Teams purpose is to identify NSF-funded researchers who will receive additional support - in the form of mentoring and funding - to accelerate innovation that can attract subsequent third-party funding. The purpose of the NSF I-Corps Teams grant is to give the project team access to resources to help determine the readiness to transition technology developed by previously-funded or currently-funded NSF projects.  The outcomes of I-Corps Teams projects will be threefold: 1) a clear go or no go decision regarding viability of products and services, 2) should the decision be to move the effort forward, a transition plan for those projects to move forward, and 3) a technology demonstration for potential partners. Deadline 17 Mar. Read full announcement


(TOP) ~ FY14 Region 9 Wetland Program Development

Wetland Program Development Grants (WPDGs) provide eligible applicants an opportunity 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. All proposals submitted under this RFP must be for projects that build or refine state/tribal/local government wetland programs. Implementation of wetland protection programs is not an eligible project under this announcement. Deadline 1 Apr. Read full announcement


(TOP) ~ AFRI: Water for Agriculture Challenge Area

The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is seeking grant funding applications from colleges and universities for its 'Agriculture and Food Research Initiative: Water for Agriculture Challenge Area' which is intended to address critical water resources issues such as drought, excess soil moisture, flooding, quality and others in an agricultural context. NIFA has identified three critical topics that will be funded through this new challenge area: 1) ensuring the water security of surface and ground water needed to produce agricultural goods and services; 2) improving nutrient management in agricultural landscapes focused on nitrogen and phosphorous; and 3) reducing impacts of chemicals and the presence and movement of environmental pathogens in the nation's water supply. Deadline 17 Apr. Read full announcement


(TOP) ~ 40 Chances Fellows program

The 40 Chances Fellows program will fund four 40 Chances Fellows with the most innovative social enterprise plans that use strategies built on the principles of 40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World. These social enterprises must seek to address issues of hunger, conflict, or poverty and may be established in any one of the following four countries where the Africa Governance Initiative has a strong presence: Rwanda, Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Malawi. Each strategy must involve local leadership and management into the operations of the social enterprise by integrating local place-based ownership and relying on locally driven design, development, and deployment in its programs or services.  In addition, these enterprises should fill gaps in existing value chains, or otherwise combine a variety of complementary and existing efforts into a comprehensive and integrated approach to solve the intended challenge. Get more information


(TOP) ~ Community Climate Change Fellowship

The 2014 Community Climate Change Fellowship Program is a pilot initiative sponsored by EECapacity, with generous support from EPA. It is open to educators who want to address climate change issues in their communities through innovative education and engagement strategies. The fellowship will promote leadership, networking, innovation, as well as creative strategies for reaching new and under-represented audiences. Fellows will meet their colleagues at a five-day professional development workshop, take part in special webinars, and attend the 2014 NAAEE International Conference in Ottawa, Canada. Learning opportunities during the fellowship will focus on leadership, fundraising, evaluation, climate change, community engagement, and more. Get more information


(TOP) ~ Long-Term Ecological Research

NSF currently supports 25 LTER sites, and the solicitation is open to renewal proposals only. To address ecological questions that cannot be resolved with short-term observations or experiments, NSF established the Long Term Ecological Research Program (LTER) in 1980. Three components differentiate LTER research from projects supported by other NSF programs: 1) the research is located at specific sites chosen to represent major ecosystem types or natural biomes; 2) it emphasizes the study of ecological phenomena over long periods of time based on data collected in five core areas; and 3) projects include integrative, cross-site, network-wide research. Ongoing research at LTER sites must test important, current ecological theories and significantly advance understanding of the long-term dynamics of populations, communities and ecosystems. Deadline 14 Mar. Read full announcement

Conferences, Meetings and Reports


(TOP) ~ Call for nominations: ASA, CSSA, & SSSA awards

The American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America are accepting nominations for 2014 awards and scholarships, which honors researchers, educators, extension professionals, and students. Nominate a colleague for one of the dozens of awards and scholarships. Awards Deadlines: March 27 to initiate online nominations and April 3 for reference letters and final submission. Scholarship Deadlines: April 3 to initiate online application and April 10 for reference letters and final submission. www.agronomy.org/awards, www.crops.org/awards, www.soils.org/awards


(TOP) ~ Agricultural technologies could increase global crop yields as much as 67 percent

A new report from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), “Food Security in a World of Natural Resource Scarcity: The Role of Agricultural Technologies,” measures the impact of agricultural innovation of farm productivity, prices, hunger, and trade flows, and identifies practices that could significantly benefit developing nations. The book examines 11 agricultural practices and technologies to see how they could help farmers around the world improve the sustainability of growing three of the world’s staple crops: maize, rice and wheat. The agricultural innovations profiled are: crop protection, drip irrigation, drought tolerance, heat tolerance, integrated soil fertility management, no-till farming, nutrient use efficiency, organic agriculture, precision agriculture, sprinkler irrigation, and water harvesting. Read full article


(TOP) ~ GMA unifies food industry in GMO label fight

The Grocery Manufacturers Association is calling in friends to help in its push for a federal GMO labeling law to preempt state requirements. A lot of friends. The influential food industry group announced the creation of its 29-member “Coalition for Safe Affordable Food” Thursday. “We’ve all been talking about this for some time. What we’ve determined is now is the time for us to stand together,” Pamela Bailey, GMA’s president and CEO, said, during a roughly one-hour call with nearly a dozen reporters, a sign of the growing interest in the battle over whether to mandate the labeling of foods that contain genetically modified organisms. This “is not one or two or three groups. This is a coalition that is unprecedented in the value chain.” Read full article


(TOP) ~ We need G.M.O. wheat

gmo wheatIn this opinion piece, Jayson Lusk, a professor of agricultural economics at Oklahoma State University, and Henry I. Miller, a physician and a fellow at the Hoover Institution, argue that the world needs genetically modified (GM) wheat. The U.S. wheat industry, they say, will continue to struggle against other commodities, and against drought conditions, if it does not embrace the benefits of the newer molecular techniques of genetic engineering. Because wheat farmers have balked at genetically engineered wheat varieties, and feared the anti-GM views held by trading partners, wheat farmers have missed out on one of the most important benefits of genetic engineering: the development of crops that can survive droughts or grow with low-quality water. And, since much of the nation’s wheat crop is grown on land above the Ogallala Aquifer, which is rapidly being depleted, wheat genetically engineered with such attributes could go a long way toward improving wheat yields and making the crop more attractive to farmers. Read full article


(TOP) ~ A new tool for identifying key soybean genes

USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in Beltsville, Marylnd have developed a new tool to search for soybean genes that will make soybean plants more productive and better able to resist pests and diseases. Using the new tool, scientists can collect genetic information in three days that previously took weeks to gather. The researchers have already used the 'SoySNP50K iSelect SNP BeadChip' to profile 96 wild and 96 cultivated soybean varieties by comparing SNP alleles, or variant forms, at each of their 52,000 positions on the soybean genome, as registered on the chip. They identified regions of the genome that played a key role in the plant's domestication. See the news release


(TOP) ~ US Agricultural Statistical Data

The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) has released its preliminary 2012 Census of Agriculture results. Key findings include an increase in the value of agricultural products sold in the United States totaling $394.6 billion in 2012, up 33 percent ($97.4 billion) from 2007. The number of farms and land in farms were down slightly, but held steady. In 2012, crop sales of $212.4 billion exceeded livestock sales of $182.2 billion. This occurred for only the second time in Census history. Between 2007 and 2012, per farm average value of sales increased from $137,807 to $187,093, continuing a steady 30-year upward trend. The 2012 Census showed principal farm operators are becoming older and more diverse. The full final report is expected to be released in May. See the news release


(TOP) ~ Farmers see more benefits from growing covers, but few choose to grow them

The National Conference on Cover Crops & Soil Health, hosted USDA's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, began in Omaha yesterday as part of an effort to increase cover crop adoption from 3 million acres today to 20 million acres by 2020. Driven by extreme weather conditions, some farmers have begun testing cover crops as a tool for reducing erosion and compaction and increasing soil resiliency. Although some farmers are discovering the benefits of cover crops, reporting yield increases that translate into $35-an-acre net return for corn and $28-an-acre net return on soybean acres, barriers remain to more widespread implementation, including limited data and concerns about how cover crops will affect crop insurance and other risk management tools. Read full article


(TOP) ~ Collaboration makes nutrient resource use more efficient

A public and private collaboration announced could improve the use of nutrient resources on soils. DuPont Pioneer, the University of Missouri and the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service will work together to help growers sustainably improve yields. USDA’s and Missouri’s expertise combined with the seed company’s analytical know-how will open doors to what’s called new environmental response units, according to Joe Foresman, director of services for DuPont Pioneer. He says that allows for different fertility rates and seeding rates. The result, according to Foresman, will be better productivity on good acres, with fewer resources invested on those acres where soils aren’t so good. It also is a more prudent use of nitrogen, making growers able to avoid over application where it’s not needed. Read full article


(TOP) ~ Genetically engineered crops in the United States

The USDA Economic Research Service has released a report which found that the number of field releases for testing of GE varieties approved by USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) grew from 4 in 1985 to 1,194 in 2002 and averaged around 800 per year thereafter. Three crops (corn, cotton, and soybeans) make up the bulk of the acres planted to GE crops. U.S. farmers planted about 169 million acres of these GE crops in 2013, or about half of total land used to grow crops. The adoption of insect-resistant (Bt) crops increases yields by mitigating yield losses from insects. However, empirical evidence regarding the effect of herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops on yields is mixed. Farmers generally use less insecticide when they plant Bt corn and Bt cotton. The adoption of HT crops has enabled farmers to substitute glyphosate for more toxic and persistent herbicides. However, an overreliance on glyphosate and a reduction in the diversity of weed management practices adopted by crop producers have contributed to the evolution of glyphosate resistance in 14 weed species and biotypes in the United States. See full report


(TOP) ~ NSTA virtual conference: NGSS practices in action

Learn how to integrate the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) into K–12 classrooms. This web-based professional learning opportunity will feature interactive sessions on modeling, explanation and argumentation, and engineering, plus breakouts by grade level and discipline. Speak with NGSS experts, engage in dialogue with other science educators, and discover new classroom instructional strategies. 8 Mar. Get more information

Congressional/Administration News


(TOP) ~ Washington week ahead: drought issue hovering over lawmakers

Congress returns from its recess this week and many agricultural stakeholders are watching for what lawmakers do to assist with the devastating drought in Southern California. Both chambers have bills aimed at the issue. The House recently passed drought-relief legislation (H.R. 3964) that would repeal some of California's authority over its Central Valley. The bill, offered by Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., and Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., would turn on the Delta pumps this year and next year to capture future rain events, as well as ending restoration flows in the San Joaquin River for this year and next year. In the Senate, Democrats have introduced legislation to authorize $300 million in emergency funds for drought-relief projects to maximize water supplies for farmers. For its part, the administration has announced USDA is moving to accelerate $100 million in livestock disaster assistance to producers in California. Read full article


(TOP) ~ Research money small but vital part of farm bill

While 80 percent of the federal farm bill goes to food stamps for the needy, and 15 percent is designated for farm subsidies and crop insurance, there is still the pledge of hundreds of millions of dollars for agricultural research. It’s a drop in the bucket overall, but it’s pumping money into universities across the country, particularly those conducting advanced agricultural research. Experts say the allocation appears to represent an increase in funding to public research schools. The farm bill also creates the nonprofit Foundation for Food Agriculture Research, which aims to boost cooperation between industry, academia and private foundations, and its research will focus on safe, efficient and sustainable food production, innovations to boost the economy and fight global hunger. Its $200 million price tag has to be matched through private investment. Ian Maw, the vice president for food, agriculture and natural resources with the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, said most of the organization’s priorities were incorporated into the bill. "Bottom line, I think it's a good bill and we're glad it's finally done," Maw said. "It was a long and torturous trip to come to this point.


(TOP) ~ Support for the Golden Goose Award

golden gooseThe “Golden Goose Award” aims to demonstrate the human and economic benefits of federally funded research by highlighting examples of seemingly obscure or silly sounding research projects that have led to major breakthroughs and resulted in significant societal impact. Such breakthroughs include life-saving medicines and treatments; game-changing social and behavioral insights; and major technological advances related to national security, energy, the environment, communications, and public health. Awardees are announced throughout the year with a major annual event held each fall in Washington, D.C. to recognize recipients and present their Golden Goose Awards. Originally conceived by Congressman Jim Cooper (D-TN), the Golden Goose Award enjoys bicameral and bipartisan Congressional support. The Golden Goose Award was founded in 2012 by a coalition of universities, think tanks, and business organizations. Get more information and Read the op-ed article


(TOP) ~ EPA proposes new safety measures to protect farm workers from pesticide exposure

EPA is proposing to strengthen the protections provided to agricultural workers and handlers under the Worker Protection Standard by improving elements of the existing regulation, such as training, notification, communication materials, use of personal protective equipment, and decontamination supplies. Increased training and signage will inform farm workers about the protections they are afforded under the law. No-entry buffer areas surrounding pesticide-treated fields [are intended to] protect workers and others from exposure from pesticide overspray and fumes. In addition, EPA has proposed that children under 16 be legally barred from handling all pesticides, with an exemption for family farms. Read the news release


(TOP) ~ New ARS administrator appointed

Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young has been named the Administrator for the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) by USDA Chief Scientist and REE Under Secretary, Dr. Catherine Woteki. Dr. Jacobs-Young previously led ARS' Office of National Programs, which manages the research objectives of the Agency and will assume her new duties effective February 23, 2014. See news release


(TOP) ~ U.S. GMO crops show mix of benefits, concerns, USDA report

After more than 15 years of using genetically modified crops, U.S. farmers are continuing to see an array of benefits, but the impacts on the environmental and on food production are mixed, and high farmer use of a popular herbicide on GMO crops is a cause for ongoing concern, according to a report issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. ‘We are not characterizing them (GMO crops) as bad or good. We are just providing information,’ said Michael Livingston, a government agricultural economist and one of the authors of the report, prepared by the USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS). The report, released online on Feb. 20, comes at a time when GMO crops are under intense scrutiny. Consumer groups are calling for tighter regulation of crop research and production and seeking mandatory labeling of foods made with GMOs; environmentalists are reporting increasing concerns about weed resistance and insect resistance to the crops and the chemicals used on them; and some scientific studies are reporting that the chemicals used on the crops are linked to disease and illness. Read full article


(TOP) ~ Immigration reform, important for agriculture

In this opinion piece, Robert Giblin discusses the importance of immigration reform to American agriculture, noting that farmers and consumers alike rely on immigrant farm workers, about 70% of whom are undocumented. “Agriculture craves stability and access to a legal workforce,” Giblin argues. He cites a recent report, “Gauging the Farm Sector’s Sensitivity to Immigration Reform,” commissioned by American Farm Bureau Federation and conducted by World Agricultural Economic Environmental Services, that found “The best option includes enforcement, an adjustment of status and work authorization for experienced agricultural workers, and a redesigned, efficient guest worker program. With only a 1-percent impact on farm income and negligible effects on food prices, this option has the fewest negative effects for farmers and consumers alike. Read full article

Sources: Agri-Pulse; The Associated Press; International Food Policy Research Institute; Meridian Institute; North American Association for Environmental Education; The New York Times; Politico; Reuters; USDA; The 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.