Science Policy Report

Address all comments to the Science Policy Office at:

12 March 2014

In This Issue:

International Corner

~ Decreasing diversity in global food production and consumption
~ Pacific ocean smackdown: el niño vs. polar vortex?
~ Climate sensitivity to change underestimated in last IPCC report, study
~ Legislation to control climate change begins to circle the globe
~ Changing the diet of grass-fed cows could reduce emissions, study
~ International project aims to help Cuban agriculture deal with climate change

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ MacroSystems Biology
~ Agriculture and Food Research Initiative - Childhood Obesity Prevention
~ On-farm Research in Sustainable Agriculture
~ Minor Crop Pest Management Program Interregional Research Project
~ FY14 and FY15 Region 3 Wetland Program Development Grants

Conferences, Meetings and Reports

~ Call for nominations: ASA, CSSA, & SSSA awards
~ CSSA releases biotechnology statement
~ Preserving the genetic diversity of crops
~ Healthy soils webinar series: cover crops
~ Smart Balance dumps GMO oils from its line of 15 buttery spreads
~ Sustaining Biological Infrastructure: Strategies for Success
~ Research giants lay out scientific certainties in global warming primer
~ Organic farm supporters say GMO contamination needs USDA controls
~ State CO2 emissions release
~ New climate communications initiative

Congressional/Administration News

~ FY 2015 Obama administration budget recommendations released
~ House panel floats bill reauthorizing key offices, sets vote next week
~ Vilsack to defend USDA budget request
~ Coalition presses congress, agencies to curb farms' nutrient discharges
~ Agricultural Act of 2014: highlights and implications
~ Close the innovation deficit

International Corner

(TOP) ~ Decreasing diversity in global food production and consumption

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) by an international group of scientists found that national food supplies globally have become increasingly similar in composition, based upon a suite of truly global crop plants. The increase in homogeneity worldwide portends the establishment of a global standard food supply, which is relatively species-rich in regard to measured crops at the national level, but species-poor globally. These changes in food supplies heighten interdependence among countries in regard to availability and access to these food sources and the genetic resources supporting their production, and give further urgency to nutrition development priorities aimed at bolstering food security. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Pacific ocean smackdown: el niño vs. polar vortex?

Relief may be on the way for a weather-weary United States with the predicted warming of the central Pacific Ocean brewing this year that will likely change weather worldwide. But it won't be for the better everywhere. The warming, called an El Niño, is expected to lead to fewer Atlantic hurricanes and more rain next winter for drought-stricken California and southern states, and even a milder winter for the nation's frigid northern tier next year, meteorologists say. While it could be good news to lessen the southwestern U.S. drought and shrink heating bills next winter in the far north, "worldwide it can be quite a different story," said North Carolina State University atmospheric sciences professor Ken Kunkel. "Some areas benefit. Some don't." Globally, it can mean an even hotter year coming up and billions of dollars in losses for food crops. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Climate sensitivity to change underestimated in last IPCC report, study

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change may have lowballed its estimates of climate sensitivity, according to a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change. Climate sensitivity describes the relationship between the Earth's temperature and radiative forcing, or the accumulation of solar energy in its atmosphere, lands and oceans. The more sensitive the climate, the more temperature is expected to rise from a given amount of radiative forcing. A minor uproar broke out last summer when a leaked draft copy of the IPCC's fifth assessment report showed that the panel had lowered the range of its sensitivity estimates. Some scientists and bloggers worried at the time that the panel had been overly cautious in order to avoid controversy. Lowering the threshold was indeed a step in the wrong direction, but the error had a technical explanation, said Drew Shindell, a climate scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and author of the new report. The problem, he said, was in how the IPCC's models accounted for aerosols and ozone. Along with carbon dioxide, the calculations behind climate sensitivity factor in aerosols and ozone, substances that reflect some of the sun's energy back out of the atmosphere and offset some of the positive radiative forcing from greenhouse gases. Aerosols include clouds. But the IPCC report likely underestimated the cooling impact of these forcers, and as a result, it found the climate to be less sensitive than is probably accurate. See abstact

(TOP) ~ Legislation to control climate change begins to circle the globe

global legislationA global groundswell is rising from Beijing to Berlin, according to a new study Senate Democrats will release that indicates nations are establishing domestic climate legislation at a rapid pace. The analysis of 66 countries, including E.U. member states, accounting for the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions finds that 61 have passed climate and clean energy laws. All told, there are now more than 500 laws addressing climate change worldwide, compared to less than 40 when the Kyoto Protocol, the world's first global warming treaty, went into effect nearly two decades ago. It's also up significantly from 2009, when President Obama met with the leaders of China, India and other countries in Copenhagen, Denmark, where they were unsuccessful in crafting a new legally binding successor to the Kyoto Protocol. With an attempt at yet another new deal on the horizon in Paris in 2015, leaders say domestic action is finally starting to drive the global negotiations. Produced by the Global Legislators Organization (GLOBE International) and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, the study is the fourth deep dive into what countries are doing domestically to address climate change.

(TOP) ~ Changing the diet of grass-fed cows could reduce emissions, study

Grass-fed beef sounds like a type of meat that's both tasty and good for the environment. But that's not the case in much of the developing world, and researchers now say changing the diets of livestock animals can both create more food and cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. A new study found that farmers should expand livestock production in so-called mixed systems, where the livestock eat both high-quality grains and grass, instead of having them just eat grass. The bigger point in the study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is that the world shouldn't just focus on curbing meat consumption to cut agriculture's contribution to global warming. Society has to also reduce the impact of producing all that meat as well. Raising livestock accounts for 30 percent of total land area use around the world and is responsible for 12 percent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. The good news is that farmers are already carrying out some of these changes in developing countries in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia because they've begun to see it in their interests, partly because land is getting pricier.

(TOP) ~ International project aims to help Cuban agriculture deal with climate change

cuban agThe European Union and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation have been funding a project in Cuba that is trying to adapt that country's agricultural industry to climate change and encourage farmers to use organic fertilizers. The program, launched in 2013, is called the Environmental Basis for Food Sustainability, or Basal in Spanish, and it has a $13 million budget for five years. The aim is to promote green technologies to grow plants faster and control diseases with green vectors, said Sandra Diaz, a coordinator with the project. One way to diversify production is to have a regular rotation of different grains, raise ducks and fish, and introduce more resistant varieties. The project will also encourage the free flow of knowledge among scientists and farmers about how to combat the problems associated with climate change. Among other effects, climate change may erode soils, which could lead to less production of crops in Cuba. Already, some rice-producing areas in Cuba have to deal with soil degradation. Read full article

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

(TOP) ~ MacroSystems Biology

Research on Biological Systems at Regional to Continental Scales will support quantitative, interdisciplinary, systems-oriented research on biosphere processes and their complex interactions with climate, land use, and invasive species at regional to continental scales as well as planning, training, and development activities to enable groups to conduct MacroSystems Biology Research. Deadline 7 Apr. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Agriculture and Food Research Initiative - Childhood Obesity Prevention

The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is seeking research grant funding applications from public and private institutions of higher education, for profit and nonprofit organizations, and others for projects that generate new knowledge of the behavioral (not metabolic), social, cultural, and/or environmental factors, including food environment, that influence childhood obesity and use this information to develop and implement effective family, peer, community, and/or school-based interventions for preventing overweight and obesity and promoting healthy behaviors in children and adolescents (ages 2–19 years). Note that this program focuses on prevention of weight gain and will not fund projects to promote weight loss. NIFA anticipates having about $9.0 million in total available grant funds for the program in Fiscal Year (FY) 2014. Deadline 17 Apr. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ On-farm Research in Sustainable Agriculture

The Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) is seeking grant funding pre-proposals that focus on sustainable agriculture based on a systems approach to research that aims to understand how complex systems function as a whole, often beginning with a conceptual model. Proposal must address one of the priority areas identified by the SARE Administrative Council: 1) limited resource farmers; 2) organic farming systems; 3) environmentally sound practices/agricultural ecosystems; 4) marketing/economic development; 5) policy, program evaluation, and quality of life; 6) women in sustainable agriculture. Extension, NRCS, governmental or non-governmental organization (NGO) or University personnel who regularly work with farmers/ranchers in the Southern region [Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands] may apply for the grant. Deadline 2 Jun. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Minor Crop Pest Management Program Interregional Research Project

The purpose of the IR-4 program is to enable the crop protection industry to provide safe, effective, and economical crop protection products for growers and consumers of minor/specialty crops. The crop protection industry cannot justify the costs associated with the research and development, registration, production, and marketing of crop protection products for minor/specialty crops due to the smaller market base and limited sales potential. The IR-4 program provides the assistance needed to ensure that new and more effective crop protection products are developed and made available to minor/specialty crop producers. These efforts require effective collaborations among federal agencies, the crop protection industry, and land-grant colleges and universities. Deadline 14 Apr. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ FY14 and FY15 Region 3 Wetland Program Development Grants

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 21 Apr. 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.,,

(TOP) ~ CSSA releases biotechnology statement

The Crop Science Society of America says it supports the use of biotechnology to produce genetically modified crops for human consumption. In a position statement released, the society said it concluded that GM crops are an important tool to feed a growing population in the face of limited resources. The society said it reviewed more than 25 years of research before adopting the position. "The research overwhelmingly shows that GM crops are safe and pose no significant health or environmental risks," Stephen Baenziger, chairman of the society's science policy committee, said in a release. Prompted by worries over the safety of genetically engineered foods, a coalition of food safety advocates and organic food producers is promoting national mandatory labeling legislation for foods with GM ingredients. "Proponents of GM labeling claim that labeling will lead to greater consumer awareness and choice," the science society said. "Consumers who wish to avoid GM foods already have several options." See the statement

(TOP) ~ Preserving the genetic diversity of crops

crop diversityThe USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) is seeking public comments on the paperwork and regulatory burdens associated with its new 'Census of Users of the National Plant Germplasm System' which will solicit data from the 7,207 institutional representatives who requested germplasm (i.e., living tissue from which plants can be grown) for any of ten crops including beans, barley, cotton, maize, sorghum, squash, soybeans, potato, rice, and wheat from the National Plant Germplasm System over a five year period. The information to be collected is intended to assess and understand the types and varieties of germplasm needed by breeders and other scientists in both the public and private sectors. This information will also assess biological traits that are needed for adaptation to climate change. Deadline 5 May. See federal notice and Get more information

(TOP) ~ Healthy soils webinar series: cover crops

Cover crops are increasingly popular, but can they be profitable in the first year? And what's the true cost of cover crop adoption? In this webinar you'll learn some remarkable facts and figures from a farmer who conducted his own on-farm test comparing cover crop with no cover crop for corn and soybeans. Participants will learn about the transition to cover crops, an economics method for assessing the on-farm value of cover crops, and criteria for judging a case study. Join the webinar

(TOP) ~ Smart Balance dumps GMO oils from its line of 15 buttery spreads

Boulder-based Smart Balance announced that it has stopped using genetically modified ingredients in its 15 buttery spreads and hopes to be a catalyst for change in the food industry. "I think we are the first mainstream brand to make this conversion," Stephen Hughes, chairman and CEO of Smart Balance Brands parent Boulder Brands, said in an interview. "I think if we are successful, others will follow." Non-GMO labeled Smart Balance will begin showing up on retailers' shelves within 30 days, and the entire product-line conversion should be complete within 90 days, Hughes said. Smart Balance accounts for 13-14 percent of the buttery-spread market nationwide and about 20 percent in Denver, Hughes said. The company sells 22 million to 23 million units a year, mostly in 15-ounce tubs. Hughes said the company is responding to consumer demand. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Sustaining Biological Infrastructure: Strategies for Success

ESA’s Office of Science Programs announces the training course, “Sustaining Biological Infrastructure: Strategies for Success” to be held June 10 to June 12, 2014 in the Washington, DC Metro Area. This hands-on course will provide project directors with the key business planning, marketing, and communication skills they need to enhance their project’s continuing development and sustainability.  Expert faculty will use lectures, group work, discussions, and case studies to: provide participants with step-by-step instructions on how to create a strategic and sustainable business plan for their research infrastructure project; provide planning tools that participants will use to analyze and assess their specific project and develop methods for financial sustainability; introduce essential strategies for effective communication with users and funders; and provide guidance and best practices to help participants succeed as they innovate and add value to their projects. Get more information

(TOP) ~ Research giants lay out scientific certainties in global warming primer

The national scientific bodies of the United States and Great Britain attempted to set the record straight on which aspects of climate science are firmly established and which are still under investigation. The National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society released a joint plain-language publication that dismisses some areas of controversy while showing that the link between human emissions and certain climatic phenomena remains unknown. The role human emissions play in driving warming is now settled science, NAS President Ralph Cicerone and Royal Society President Paul Nurse said in their preface. "It is now more certain than ever, based on many lines of evidence, that humans are changing Earth's climate," they said. See full report

(TOP) ~ Organic farm supporters say GMO contamination needs USDA controls

A new report, released by Food & Water Watch and the Organic Farmer’s Agency for Relationship Marketing (OFARM), called for new government rules to control contamination by genetically modified (GM) crops. According to the report, more than 30 percent of farmers seeking to grow organic crops reported that unintended GMO presence had been found or was suspected on their farms. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is currently taking public comments on a plan for “enhancing co-existence” of non-GMO and GMO crops. "The risks and the effects of GMO contamination have unfairly burdened organic and non-GMO farmers with extra work, longer hours and financial insecurity," the report stated. Food & Water Watch said the USDA should start tracking and analyzing incidences of contamination (the agency does not currently do so if the GMO crop is approved for commercial use) and the associated economic losses. The organization also called for the USDA to require GMO crop growers to create buffers between their fields and non-GMO farm fields, and hold biotech seed companies responsible for losses associated with contamination. Read full article

(TOP) ~ State CO2 emissions release

The US Energy Information Administration has released estimates of energy-related CO2 which are based on the States Energy Data System. The state data include a summary table with total energy-related CO2 by state beginning in 1990, a table with emissions by fuel in 2010 and a table with emissions by sector in 2011. Detailed tables for individual states provide emissions by fuel and sector for data beginning in 1980. See the data

(TOP) ~ New climate communications initiative

Climate Voices-Science Speakers Network will be launched this spring as a new initiative of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) and the United Nations Foundation.  The goal is to bring scientists and their local communities together for real dialogue on climate science that speaks to citizens’ current and future well-being and responsibility as members of a community and democracy. Materials for context-setting presentations will be offered as will coaching regarding how to begin conversations about climate change with fellow citizens.  Venues for such conversations will be local institutions such as service organizations (Rotary, etc.), faith-based institutions, chambers of commerce, etc. Get more information

Congressional/Administration News

(TOP) ~ FY 2015 Obama administration budget recommendations released

The proposed $3.9 trillion budget for FY 2015, which covers the time period of October 2014 through September 2015, adheres to the 2015 spending levels agreed to in the Bipartisan Budget Act and shows the choices the President would make at those levels. It includes a total of $2.7 billion for agricultural research and extension activities, as well as a fully-paid for $56 billion Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative showing where additional investments should be made in critical areas. The Administration claims that the budget would bring deficits down as a share of the economy to 1.6 percent by 2024. Get more information

(TOP) ~ House panel floats bill reauthorizing key offices, sets vote next week

Republicans on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee introduced a science bill that would increase breakthrough prize competitions, boost support for manufacturing research and require federal grant projects to meet "national interest" criteria. The bill would reauthorize the National Science Foundation, the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education programs through September 2015. It is one of two bills with which Republicans want to replace a broad science and energy bill that expired last September known as COMPETES. That bipartisan measure first passed in 2007 and was reauthorized in 2010. Chairman Lamar Smith (TX, R) and Rep. Larry Bucshon (IN, R), the head of the Research and Technology Subcommittee, sponsored the legislation. The Republicans' science bill comes just a few days after the Democrats on the committee introduced a comprehensive bill that would reauthorize both science and energy programs for five years. A controversial change to the NSF grant approval process contained in the draft bill remains in this version. The bill would require all NSF grant projects to meet a "national interest" criteria, such as increasing U.S. economic competitiveness, supporting national defense or promoting U.S. health, welfare or scientific progress. See the draft bill

(TOP) ~ Vilsack to defend USDA budget request

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will take to Capitol Hill to defend the Obama administration's fiscal 2015 budget request for his department. The secretary will testify Friday on the budget in front of the House Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee. The administration requested $23.7 billion in discretionary funding in fiscal 2015 for Agriculture Department programs and related agencies, about a $938 million decrease from the current enacted level. The funding request includes nearly $5 billion for the Forest Service, which is not in the agriculture subcommittee's jurisdiction. Among the cuts, USDA has proposed to close 250 Farm Service Agency offices throughout the country. The administration would also like to see $14 billion in savings over the next decade by reforming crop insurance subsidies for farmers. Vilsack said that the department's budget request was an attempt to balance a shrinking number of farms in the country, the aging nature of farmers, a tough rural economy and a changing climate with "challenging fiscal" realities. In its budget summary, the administration emphasized renewable energy, climate change and pollinator protection as top priorities.

(TOP) ~ Coalition presses congress, agencies to curb farms' nutrient discharges

A coalition of advocacy groups, scientists, and others is visiting federal agencies and Congress in an effort to promote curbing agricultural water pollution. Eric Davidson, the president of the Biogeosciences Section of the American Geophysical Union and a coalition member, said, "Providing food security without polluting the environment is a huge challenge. We made progress in some regards. Agriculture in the U.S. is becoming more efficient, and yet the problem in the Chesapeake and the Gulf, those problems are not going away." The coalition met last summer to explore barriers to increasing nitrogen efficiency in agriculture. They found that while farmers have a wide array of technologies available to increase nitrogen efficiency, farmers perceive a financial risk in applying less nutrients. The coalition plans to present these findings to the agencies and push for a new agricultural research foundation to focus on nutrient management. "Our mission is not to advocate for any particular regulatory approach. We're just advocating that they be engaged and build trust and work with ag extension to try to find solutions," Davidson said. "I think that they are recognizing that command and control from Washington is going to be met with a lot of resistance. We're looking for ways to be effective at the local level." The goal, added Davidson, is to keep the conversation on nutrient management alive in Washington.

(TOP) ~ Agricultural Act of 2014: highlights and implications

agricultural actThe USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) has created a topic area on its website which contains webpages that provide highlights and summaries of important new programs and provisions, as well as some economic implications of the new farm legislation based on ERS expertise, in the following policy areas: Crop Commodity Programs; Dairy & Livestock; Conservation; Nutrition; Rural Development; Research, Extension, and Related Matters; Energy; Crop Insurance; Specialty Crops; Organic Agriculture; and Beginning Farmers and Ranchers. ERS notes that the 2014 Farm Act makes major changes in commodity programs, adds new crop insurance options, streamlines conservation programs, modifies some provisions of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and expands programs for specialty crops, organic farmers, bioenergy, rural development, and beginning farmers and ranchers. Get more information

(TOP) ~ Close the innovation deficit

With President Obama’s fiscal year 2015 budget and the appropriations season starting on Capitol Hill, a coalition of 14 business, higher education, and scientific organizations launched a creative video that urges Congress to Close the Innovation Deficit with strong federal investments in research and higher education. The four-minute video explains the direct link between basic research, economic growth, improved medical treatments, and national security; the risk that recent cuts to research pose to the United States’ role as the global innovation leader at a time when other nations are rapidly increasing their research investments; and the significant benefits that renewed investments in research would bring the country. View the video

Sources: Climatewire; Coalition for the National Science Foundation; The Denver Post; Ecological Society of America; Energy and Environment Daily; Food Industry Environmental Network, LLC; Meridian 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.