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Science Policy Report

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09 April 2014

In This Issue:

International Corner

~ Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability
~ Can this man feed the world? Billionaire Harry Stine's quest to reinvent agriculture
~ Science advisers call for GM crop expansion
~ Ice on 'Africa's Alps' is melting, fast
~ Satellite imagery helps to measure climate change's effects
~ U.S. corn farmers cut back plantings as global competition grows
~ Climate change could delay the fight against world hunger for decades

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ FY14 and FY15 Region 3 Wetland Program Development Grants
~ NSF Grants Conference in Denver, CO
~ Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative
~ Specialty Crop Research Initiative
~ Removing or Reducing Contaminants from Air, Water, and Soils
~ Minor Crop Pest Management Program Interregional Research Project (IR-4)
~ Special Research Grants Program Potato Breeding Research
~ Supplemental and Alternative Crops Competitive Program

Conferences, Meetings and Reports

~ ASA, CSSA, SSSA 2014 Congressional Visits Day
~ AAAS S&T policy fellowships program receives 2014 Public Service Award
~ Visit Dig It! in Sacramento
~ Dear colleague letter: submission of I/UCRC proposals in response to NSF 13-594
~ Many states weigh GMO labels
~ Launch of open ag data alliance
~ Integrating STEM disciplines
~ CNSF letter to House Committee on Science, Space and Technology
~ AAAS seeks to move dialogue on climate change by releasing 'What We Know' report
~ Food security and nutrition and the post-2015 development goals

Congressional/Administration News

~ FY15 Appropriations
~ USDA Budget
~ Excellence in Soil Stewardship award
~ Budget hearing for the National Science Foundation
~ A review of the president’s FY 2015 budget request for science agencies
~ What immigration reform means for the food system
~ Rogers plans to block funding for EPA's "Waters of the U.S." rule
~ House appropriators question USDA research priorities

International Corner


(TOP) ~ Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability

This is the title of the Fifth Assessment Report produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which states that observed impacts of climate change have already affected agriculture, human health, ecosystems on land and in the oceans, water supplies, and some people’s livelihoods. In terms of food security and food production systems, the report found that climate trends are affecting the abundance and distribution of harvested aquatic species, both freshwater and marine, and aquaculture production systems in different parts of the world. Studies have documented a large negative sensitivity of crop yields to extreme daytime temperatures around 30°C. Evidence confirms the stimulatory effects of CO2 in most cases and the damaging effects of elevated tropospheric ozone on crop yields; All aspects of food security are potentially affected by climate change, including food access, utilization, and price stability; A range of potential adaptation options exist across all food system activities, not just in food production, but benefits from potential innovations in food processing, packaging, transport, storage and trade are insufficiently researched. See press release and report overview


(TOP) ~ Can this man feed the world? Billionaire Harry Stine's quest to reinvent agriculture

feed the worldHarry Stine is the richest man in Iowa. He is the owner and founder of Stine Seed, the largest private seed company in the world. He has developed some of the most valuable agricultural products in the world, and he sells his coveted soybean and corn seed genetics to companies like Monsanto and Syngenta. Innovation, clearly, is not confined to the world of Silicon Valley. The seed market is expected to double in the next five years as crops fortified with more resilient genetics come on the market. And Stine’s operation, through plant breeding, has perfected the genetic makeup of soybean seeds. “Our germplasm–our genetic base here–is the best in the world,” says Stine. “We dominate genetics in the industry.” Stine is now turning to corn – he thinks he could double the world’s output of corn by breeding corn seeds genetically predisposed to thrive when planted in high densities. Read full article


(TOP) ~ Science advisers call for GM crop expansion

Official science advisers for Prime Minister David Cameron have called on the government to scrap "dysfunctional" E.U. regulations over genetically modified crops, asking for the crops to be sold across the country in efforts to ensure future food security and the competitiveness of U.K. farms. Shrinking farmland, rising population and climate change threaten global food security, said chief scientific adviser Mark Walport. "If we don't use GM, the risk is people going unfed," he added. The advisers published a report arguing that the government should take control of GM crop regulation from the European Union and relax regulations to match those of conventional crops. The United States has approved 96 GM crops, while the European Union has approved two. The technology has been used for more than 30 years and is now popular around the world. GM crops are in development that could withstand disease and pests and cope better with heat and drought. Read full article


(TOP) ~ Ice on 'Africa's Alps' is melting, fast

Experts have warned that the ice on the Rwenzori mountain range is melting at a "disturbing" rate, and that Africa's equatorial summits will be diminished to nothing but rock within two decades, affecting both tourism and agriculture. "Every year, the ice grows smaller," said 54-year-old John Medenge, who has been climbing the range since he was a teenager. But the vanishing ice is affecting more than leisure sports. "The melting of this unique African glacier is a major threat to local communities, with the obvious loss of sustainable water supplies," said Luc Hardy, a French-American explorer and a vice president of the environmental group Green Cross. Reduced glacial river flows are already affecting agricultural production and diminishing the output of hydroelectric power plants. It can be a big problem in the future for the region, with the river ecology already changing. Now maps show the ice has shrunk from some 2.7 square miles when the mountains were first climbed in 1906 to a single square kilometer (a third of a square mile) today. "The Rwenzoris are some of the most exciting glacier trekking and climbing I've done, rivalling peaks in Europe and South America," said Paul Drawbridge, a British mountaineer on an eight-day expedition to climb Mount Stanley, part of the mountain chain.


(TOP) ~ Satellite imagery helps to measure climate change's effects

Satellite sensors have found the U.S. Corn Belt during the growing season to be the most productive spot in the world for converting carbon dioxide and sunlight into usable energy, according to a new research paper. The information from the sensors provides an important new data set that will act as a benchmark to measure changes to agriculture due to climate change, a group of international university and NASA researchers wrote. The data gathered from space are more accurate than data gathered from existing carbon cycle models, which tend to underestimate productivity, they said. "Considering the growing pressure on agricultural systems to provide for an increasing food and biofuel demand in the world, a global, time-resolved, and accurate analysis of crop productivity is critically required," the researchers wrote last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences...The authors said the data will provide for unbiased monitoring of agricultural productivity and act as a benchmark for modeling efforts. They will help researchers predict the impacts of climate change on crop yields in the nation's Corn Belt and in other regions of the world. "The paper shows that fluorescence is a much better proxy for agricultural productivity than anything we've had before," said Christian Frankenberg, a co-author of the report and a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., in a statement. "This can go a long way regarding monitoring -- and maybe even predicting -- regional crop yields. See the abstract


(TOP) ~ U.S. corn farmers cut back plantings as global competition grows

After years of planting one massive crop after another, U.S. corn farmers are planning to pull back for the first time since the recession, signaling a new era of uncertainty for the nation's largest crop. Midwest farmers ramped up production in recent years as biofuels boomed at home and demand around the globe soaked up nearly every last kernel. But the rest of the world boosted output too. The result is increasingly competitive markets for U.S. farmers, who saw corn exports hit a four-decade low last year. Long the first call of foreign buyers, the U.S. now finds China, the fastest-growing market for corn, looking to South America and the Black Sea region. "It's a different world than we were in just a couple years ago," said Patrick Westhoff, director of the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri. The new competition from abroad, and a flattening out of federal ethanol mandates, mean U.S. farmers are starting to turn cautious.


(TOP) ~ Climate change could delay the fight against world hunger for decades

A new report from Oxfam, a global confederation of 17 organizations fighting poverty and hunger, warns that climate change threatens to delay the fight against world hunger for decades. "What Oxfam is discovering more and more in our work to address hunger and poverty globally is that climate change is one of the single biggest threats to winning the fight against hunger," Heather Coleman, Oxfam International's climate change policy manager, said. "The reason for that is because of growing food insecurity." Read full article

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities


(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. Deadline 21 Apr. Read full announcement


(TOP) ~ NSF Grants Conference in Denver, CO

The first National Science Foundation Grants Conference of fiscal year 2014, will be hosted by Colorado State University on June 23-24, 2014. Key officials representing each NSF program directorate, administrative office, Office of General Counsel, and Office of the Inspector General will participate in this two-day conference. The conference is considered a must, particularly for new faculty, researchers, educators and administrators who want to gain insight into a wide range of important and timely issues at NSF including: the state of current funding; the proposal and award process; and current and recently updated policies and procedures. Get more information


(TOP) ~ Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative

The USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture is accepting grant funding applications for its Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) which funds projects that will enhance the ability of producers and processors who have already adopted organic standards to grow and market high quality organic agricultural products. Priority concerns include biological, physical, and social sciences, including economics. The OREI is particularly interested in projects that emphasize research, education and outreach that assist farmers and ranchers with whole farm planning by delivering practical research-based information. Projects should plan to deliver applied production information to producers. Fieldwork must be done on certified organic land or on land in transition to organic certification, as appropriate to project goals and objectives. Deadline 8 May. Read full announcement


(TOP) ~ Specialty Crop Research Initiative

The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is seeking research grant funding applications for its Specialty Crop Research Initiative to address the critical needs of the specialty crop industry by awarding grants to support research and extension that address key challenges of national, regional, and multi-state importance in sustaining all components of food and agriculture, including conventional and organic food production systems. Projects must address at least one of five focus areas: Research in plant breeding, genetics, genomics, and other methods to improve crop characteristics; Efforts to identify and address threats from pests and diseases, including threats to specialty crop pollinators; Efforts to improve production efficiency, handling and processing, productivity, and profitability over the long term (including specialty crop policy and marketing); New innovations and technology, including improved mechanization and technologies that delay or inhibit ripening; and methods to prevent, detect, monitor, control, and respond to potential food safety hazards in the production efficiency, handling and processing of specialty crops. Deadline 11 Apr. Read full announcement


(TOP) ~ Removing or Reducing Contaminants from Air, Water, and Soils

Research Grant Funding Applications are sought by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under its 'Environmental Engineering' program that encourages transformative research which applies scientific and engineering principles to avoid or minimize solid, liquid, and gaseous discharges, resulting from human activity, into land, inland and coastal waters, and air, while promoting resource and energy conservation and recovery. The program also fosters cutting-edge scientific research for identifying, evaluating, and monitoring the waste assimilative capacity of the natural environment and for removing or reducing contaminants from polluted air, water, and soils. Deadline 19 Feb, 2015. Read full announcement


(TOP) ~ Minor Crop Pest Management Program Interregional Research Project (IR-4)

The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is accepting grant funding applications from State agricultural experiment stations, land-grant colleges and universities, and others for its IR-4 program which provides the assistance needed to ensure that new and more effective crop protection products are developed and made available to minor/specialty crop producers. The IR-4 program will provide support for efforts to develop reduced-risk products, bio­ pesticides, and other chemicals with characteristics that are deemed lower risk to humans, non­target organisms, and the environment. Deadline 14 Apr. Read full announcement


(TOP) ~ Special Research Grants Program Potato Breeding Research

The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is seeking research grant funding applications for projects to support potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) research programs that focus on varietal development and testing and potato varieties for commercial production. As used herein, varietal development and testing is research using conventional breeding and/or biotechnological genetics to develop improved potato varieties. Aspects of evaluation, screening and testing must support variety development. Deadline 15 May. Read full announcement


(TOP) ~ Supplemental and Alternative Crops Competitive Program

The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is seeking research grant funding applications for projects to significantly increase crop production and/or acreage by developing and testing of superior germplasm, improving methods of planting, cultivation, and harvesting, and transferring new knowledge to producers (via extension) as soon as practicable. Extension, education, and communication activities related to the research areas above must be addressed in the proposal. Deadline 8 May. Read full announcement

Conferences, Meetings and Reports


(TOP) ~ ASA, CSSA, SSSA 2014 Congressional Visits Day

Last week, the ASA, CSSA & SSSA Science Policy Office hosted 55 leaders, students, CCAs and staff for the 4th annual Congressional Visits Day in Washington DC. Participants met with nearly 100 members of Congress asking for support of agriculture research at USDA-ARS and AFRI. See the all the photos from CVD here and look for a full update in the May issue of CSA News.


(TOP) ~ AAAS S&T policy fellowships program receives 2014 Public Service Award

fellowshipsThe National Science Board (NSB) announced that a long-running program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the recipient of its 2014 Public Service Award for a group. AAAS' Science & Technology Policy Fellowships program connects science with policy and fosters a network of science and engineering leaders who understand government and policymaking. See press release


(TOP) ~ Visit Dig It! in Sacramento

Dig It! The Secrets of Soil will open at the California Museum, Sacramento, on May 1, 2014, and run through March 29, 2015. Dig It! communicates to the general public about the connection between soils and everyday life. Originally created by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in conjunction with SSSA and The Fertilizer Institute, Dig It! is now a traveling exhibit sponsored by SSSA. It was last exhibited at the Bell Museum in Minneapolis. Get more information


(TOP) ~ Dear colleague letter: submission of I/UCRC proposals in response to NSF 13-594

The National Science Foundation (NSF) Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers (I/UCRC) Program has over a 30-year history of fostering long-term partnerships among industry, academe and government in various technology sectors. These partnerships develop through the cooperative execution of precompetitive research that strengthens the ecosystem for open innovation and U.S. competitiveness. Sector precompetitive research addresses application-inspired fundamental topics that are longer term, recognized challenges to the industry sector as a whole such that industry members benefit from collaboration in the research definition and execution. Read full letter


(TOP) ~ Many states weigh GMO labels

This year, at least half the states may consider labeling foods containing genetically modified (GM) ingredients, and the fight has some state attorneys general worried about whether such laws would survive court challenges, not to mention the costs to defend them. “States are getting somewhat gun-shy about being the lead state that’s going to have to pay the attorney fees should there be a successful lawsuit attacking the statute,” Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell said recently. The question of whether to label foods pits activists and consumers who support such efforts against big agribusiness and farmers who tend not to. According to polls, Americans overwhelming support labeling of GMO foods. Read full article


(TOP) ~ Launch of open ag data alliance

The Climate Corporation and several agricultural stakeholders have officially launched the Open Ag Data Alliance (OADA), an open standards software project to ensure farmers have full data access, security and privacy. “OADA will work to ensure farmers can move their data seamlessly and securely between their equipment, software and services by speeding the development of technical standards for data formatting and interoperability that will be openly developed, and shared,” said David Friedberg, CEO of The Climate Corporation, who announced the company’s intent to support the formation of the OADA earlier this year. Aaron Ault, a senior research engineer for the Open Ag Technology Group at Purdue and a farmer himself, will serve as project lead for OADA. Read full article


(TOP) ~ Integrating STEM disciplines

stem disciplinesA new report and video from the National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council examine current efforts to connect the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines in K-12 education, both in formal classroom settings and informal learning environments, and suggests research to help determine the conditions most likely to lead to positive outcomes such as greater student retention and achievement, improved college-readiness skills, and increased interest in pursuing a STEM-related career. Read full article


(TOP) ~ CNSF letter to House Committee on Science, Space and Technology

The American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America and the Soil Science Society of America have joined with other organizations on behalf of the Coalition for the National Science Foundation, to sign a letter to the chairmen of the House Science Committee. The letter expresses concern with H.R. 4186, the Frontiers in Research, Science, Technology (FIRST) Act of 2014. Read full letter


(TOP) ~ AAAS seeks to move dialogue on climate change by releasing 'What We Know' report

Scientific consensus that humans cause climate change is akin to the scientific consensus that smoking causes cancer, says a report released today by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The report, called "What We Know," marks the kickoff of a new AAAS initiative to increase dialogue on the risks of climate change. "Opinion polls show that more than half of the American public still think that there is a debate over whether climate change is happening or whether it is human-caused," said James McCarthy, a Harvard University oceanographer and co-chairman of the report. McCarthy expressed hope that the report, coming from a trusted source (AAAS publishes the prestigious journal Science) and written by a group of esteemed American climate scientists, would get across the message that 97 percent of climate scientists are in agreement and that early action is needed on climate change. Get more information


(TOP) ~ Food security and nutrition and the post-2015 development goals

In this blog piece, Pamela Anderson, the Director of the Agricultural Development program, and Josh Lozman, the Deputy Director of Program Advocacy, both at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, write that next week the process to envision the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals will kick off. These goals will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were established in 2000. The MDGs have been a report card for how the world is performing against major problems affecting the poor, and many of the goals have been reached. Read full article

Congressional/Administration News


(TOP) ~ FY15 Appropriations

Last week, ASA, CSSA and SSSA sent funding request letters for fiscal year 2015 to House and Senate members who serve on the Appropriations Subcommittees that handle funding for the USDA, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy, Office of Science. See the letters for USDANSF, and DOE. Follow our Budget and Appropriations webpage for updates on the FY15 budget.


(TOP) ~ USDA Budget

On March 26, both the House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee held a hearing for the USDA fiscal year 2015 budget request. Secretary of Agriculture, Thomas Vilsack, testified before the Senate subcommittee, while USDA Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics, Dr. Catherine Wotecki, and Director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy, were two of the witnesses to testify before the House subcommittee. Both hearings were webcast and can be viewed here: Senate and House


(TOP) ~ Excellence in Soil Stewardship award

SSSA honored Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) with the 2014 Excellence in Soil Stewardship Award in Washington, DC on March 25 for her leadership in passing the 2014 Farm Bill and for her support of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture. See news release


(TOP) ~ Budget hearing for the National Science Foundation

On March 27, Cora Marrett of the National Science Foundation presented testimony to the House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies. See the testimony


(TOP) ~ A review of the president’s FY 2015 budget request for science agencies

On Wednesday, March 26, 2014, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing to review President Obama’s proposed fiscal year 2015 (FY15) budget request for programs and science agencies under the Committee’s jurisdiction. Dr. John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), will review the proposed budget in the context of the President’s overall priorities in science, space, and technology and will describe how the Administration determined priorities for funding across scientific disciplines and agencies. Get more information


(TOP) ~ What immigration reform means for the food system

immigrationAccording to Kathleen Merrigan, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture and soon-to-be director of the sustainability center at George Washington University, “Immigration reform is essential to agriculture’s continuation in this country. There’s no industry that’s more strapped than agriculture now for lack of immigration reform.” Merrigan, whose USDA work focused mainly on local and regional food systems, says that if we don’t take a close look at how and why today’s farms employ their workers, she doesn’t know if we will be able to count on local food for much longer. Merrigan adds that food industry leaders have confided in her that they will move production elsewhere if immigration reform does not happen soon. Read full article


(TOP) ~ Rogers plans to block funding for EPA's "Waters of the U.S." rule

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers said that he would move to block funding to implement EPA's proposed rule on determining which bodies of water and wetlands are protected under the Clean Water Act (CWA). “That would be the first step,” Rogers told Agri-Pulse. “I'm sure there will be lawsuits from about 1,500 people against this rule. It's that significant.” Rogers was speaking outside of a hearing of his committee's Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies. “I am upset not just at the rule, but what they've been doing to destroy the economy of this country,” Rogers said. “There is general concern in the agriculture community.” During the hearing, which was more focused on the proposed rule than budget numbers, Rogers heavily criticized the EPA plan. “This is the biggest land grab in the history of any governmental agency and in the history of mankind really,” Rogers said. “The Supreme Court has stricken down several EPA overreaches and this one is ripe for the picking.” The 371-page EPA proposal, which aims to clarify the long-contested definition of “Waters of the United States,” would cover almost all seasonal and rain-dependent streams, while preserving CWA exemptions and exclusions for agriculture. Gina McCarthy told Rogers the rule would not impact the permit process and may actually decrease the amount of time it takes to get a permit. “We're not expanding the types of waters that we have been historically regulating,” McCarthy said. The administrator said the rule seeks to better clarify waters that are jurisdictional under CWA and to better define navigable waters. “The reason we're doing this is there is tremendous uncertainty,” McCarthy said. “There is concern in the agriculture community that we haven't properly identified agricultural practices that were and are exempt under the law.”


(TOP) ~ House appropriators question USDA research priorities

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has sought to persuade lawmakers that an increase in their research budget is warranted. President Obama, in his fiscal 2015 agriculture budget, requested a $63 million increase for agricultural research and education. The request includes $75 million to establish three new research institutes, which would be virtual organizations that include partners from academia and the private sector, focusing on pollinator health, bio-based manufacturing and anti-microbial resistance. The research emphasis stems from a 2012 report by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology that said the nation was unprepared to meet the environmental challenges facing agriculture. Members of the House Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee said they were worried the USDA was prioritizing the wrong areas and not giving enough weight to others. "It appears to take us in a direction not provided by the 2014 farm bill," Subcommittee chairman Robert Aderholt (R-AL) said. Catherine Woteki, USDA Undersecretary, said the institutes are focused on the "major challenges to agriculture in the 21st century.” She also faced Democrats’ concerns that the USDA is not putting enough emphasis on research into specialty crops and too much into genetic engineering. "For each cycle in our budget, you are going to see a request for appropriations going towards a higher priority and a retiring of the areas that are lower priorities," she said.

Sources: AAAS; Agri-Pulse; Climatewire; Environment & Energy Daily; Forbes; Greenwire; The Huffington Post; Meridian Institute; National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council; National Science Foundation; USDA; The Wall Street Journal

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.