Science Policy Report

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23 April 2014

In This Issue:

International Corner

~ Climate efforts falling short, U.N. panel says
~ Study offers new warning about methane production from permafrost thaw
~ A five-step plan to feed the world
~ A green revolution, this time for Africa
~ Study examines cadmium uptake in New Zealand pastures
~ Soil science offers way to remove arsenic from irrigation water

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program
~ Specialty Crop Block Grant Program
~ Small Watershed Programs and Nutrient Sediment Reduction Programs
~ Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund 2014
~ Women and Minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Fields
~ Biological and Chemical Upgrading for Advance Biofuels and Products

Conferences, Meetings and Reports

~ Agriculture's greenhouse gas emissions on the rise
~ Secretary Vilsack appoints new members to USDA NAREEE advisory board
~ University-based research: always a winner
~ Climate change activists are prone to self-doubt
~ Dual turning point for biofuels
~ GMO foods and the tooth fairy
~ Farming for improved ecosystem services seen as economically feasible
~ USDA to co-host wood-to-biofuel conference

Congressional/Administration News

~ Cultivating a Healthy Future summit
~ White House support of agricultural innovation
~ MSNBC’s Morning Joe discusses ‘brain drain’ article
~ U.S. needs strong R&D portfolio to remain globally competitive
~ Major Obama proposal doesn't change ag rules, so why are farm groups worried?
~ Policy riders may slow spending bills

International Corner

(TOP) ~ Climate efforts falling short, U.N. panel says

air pollutionThe Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report warning governments they are not doing enough about climate change to avert profound risks in coming decades. Years of foot-dragging by political leaders, the IPCC said, have propelled humanity into a critical situation. And, while it remains technically possible to keep planetary warming to a tolerable level, only an intensive push over the next 15 years could achieve that goal. “We cannot afford to lose another decade,” said Ottmar Edenhofer, a German economist and co-chairman of the committee that wrote the report. “If we lose another decade, it becomes extremely costly to achieve climate stabilization.” The committee said the good news is that ambitious action is becoming more affordable and the adoption of climate plans by countries, states and cities is a promising sign of growing political interest in tackling the problem. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Study offers new warning about methane production from permafrost thaw

The amount of methane that will be released in the future from thawing permafrost may be higher than previously believed in some Arctic regions, a team of scientists warned in a new study. The findings in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences suggest that projections of greenhouse gas release from melting permafrost may need a revamp to accurately capture the long-term effect of methane, which is more potent than carbon dioxide with warming but shorter-lived in the atmosphere. The research also concludes that warming is speeding up the decomposition of organic matter in thawing permafrost in general. The research upends the idea that the ratio between carbon dioxide and methane production in thawing permafrost, or long-term frozen soil, remains fixed over time. Instead, the scientists reported that the ratio of methane production in comparison to CO2 increased about eightfold in permafrost locations with the greatest thaw, versus locations with little thaw. Both CO2 and methane increased overall in warming permafrost, but methane became an increasingly important factor with more and more melt. Methane production originally was much less than CO2 production but eventually equaled it, with extensive thaw. That suggests that other Arctic regions may behave the same way, increasingly switching to methane production (and emissions) instead of CO2 as time goes on. While methane is shorter-lived in the atmosphere than CO2, its potent warming potential could be a "killer" in terms of future melt. See the abstract

(TOP) ~ A five-step plan to feed the world

In this article, part of an eight-month series on global food issues in National Geographic, author Jonathan Foley, the director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, writes that when we think of threats to the environment, we tend to picture cars and smokestacks. Not dinner. But our need for food, he says, poses one of the biggest dangers to the planet. Agriculture is one of the greatest contributors to global warming, the thirstiest user of water, a major polluter of waterways, and it accelerates the loss of biodiversity. And these challenges will only become more pressing as we try to meet the growing need for food worldwide. Unfortunately, says Foley, the debate over how to address these challenges has become polarized, with those touting conventional agriculture pitted against those who support local food systems and organic farms. Both approaches, he says, offer badly needed solutions and neither one alone gets us there. Read full article

(TOP) ~ A green revolution, this time for Africa

In this opinion piece, Tina Rosenberg, a Pulitzer Prize winner and former editorial writer for The New York Times, writes that the high-yield wheat and rice of the Green Revolution resulted in dramatic gains in harvests in Asia and Latin America – but not in Africa. In Africa, the soil was too degraded, the climate too varied, and the continent lacked the infrastructure necessary, both in terms of roads, as well as the network of companies to sell farmers the seeds. Today, agricultural yields in Africa are less than half the global average, and about 25 percent of their potential. Rosenberg highlights the work of the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), which is working toward a new green revolution – this time for Africa. The center began working on drought-tolerant maize in the late 1980s; the first seeds were planted in Malawi and Zimbabwe in 2000. Today, three million farmers in 13 countries in Africa are using them. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Study examines cadmium uptake in New Zealand pastures

New Zealand’s pastoral landscapes are some of the loveliest in the world, but they also contain a hidden threat. Many of the country’s pasture soils have become enriched in cadmium—a toxic heavy metal that is readily taken up by grasses and then transferred to the cattle and sheep that graze them. The concern is that if cadmium concentrations rise to unsafe levels in meat and dairy products, human health and New Zealand’s agricultural economy could be jeopardized. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Soil science offers way to remove arsenic from irrigation water

The 20th century’s Green Revolution is credited with saving hundreds of millions of people from starvation. Modern agricultural practices and improved crops arrived in places like Mexico, Africa, and Asia. Millions of wells were drilled. Millions more irrigation channels began moving well water to crops. But these creative solutions brought unintended problems. Among them is the fact that the water from many irrigation wells contains arsenic, a toxin. Read full article

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

(TOP) ~ Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program

Beginning farmer education for adult and young audiences in the United States can be generally traced back to the advent of the 1862 and the 1890 Morrill Land Grant Acts. But for the first time, the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (Pub .L. No. 110-234, Section 7410), appropriated $75 million for FY 2009 to FY 2012 to develop and offer education, training, outreach and mentoring programs to enhance the sustainability of the next generation of farmers. The Agriculture Act of 2014 provided an additional $20 million per year for 2014 through 2018. The reasons for the renewed interest in beginning farmer and rancher programs are: the rising average age of U.S. farmers, the 8% projected decrease in the number of farmers and ranchers between 2008 and 2018, and the growing recognition that new programs are needed to address the needs of the next generation of beginning farmers and ranchers. Deadline 12 Jun. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Specialty Crop Block Grant Program

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the availability of approximately $66 million in Specialty Crop Block Grants to state departments of agriculture for projects that help support specialty crop growers, including locally grown fruits and vegetables, through research, programs to increase demand, and more. The historic support provided by the Agricultural Act of 2014 (Farm Bill), will strengthen rural American communities by supporting local and regional markets and improving access to fresh, healthy, and nutritious high quality products for millions of Americans.  The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, administered by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), is designed to enhance the markets for specialty crops like fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture. Interested applicants should apply directly to their state department of agriculture.  Several states have already published their requests for proposals. See the list and Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Small Watershed Programs and Nutrient Sediment Reduction Programs

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Chesapeake Bay Program Office (CBPO) is announcing a request for proposals (RFP) for supporting both the: 1. Small Watershed Grants (SWG) program; and 2. Innovative Nutrient and Sediment Reduction (INSR) grants program. The SWG program promotes community-based efforts to develop conservation strategies to protect and restore the diverse natural resources of the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed. The INSR grants program supports efforts within the Chesapeake Bay watershed to vastly accelerate nutrient and sediment reductions with innovative, sustainable, and cost-effective approaches. Applicants may apply for either or both activities. Deadline 15 May. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund 2014

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) is soliciting proposals to restore the habitats and water quality of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributary rivers and streams. The Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund (CBSF) will award approximately $8 million - $10 million in grants in partnership with the Chesapeake Bay Program. Major funding for the Stewardship Fund comes from the Environmental Protection Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Forest Service, Altria Group, CSX, Shell, and Alcoa Foundation. Deadline 15 May. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Women and Minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Fields

This program supports research and extension projects that have robust collaborations to increase the participation of women and underrepresented minorities from rural areas in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields that are relevant to USDA priorities identified by the Secretary: (i) Promotion of a safe, sufficient, and nutritious food supply for all Americans and for people around the world; (ii) Sustainable agricultural policies that foster economic viability for small and mid-sized farms and rural businesses, protect natural resources, and promote value-added agriculture; (iii) national leadership in climate change mitigation and adaptation; (iv) Building a modern workplace with a modern workforce; and (v) Support for 21st century rural communities. Deadline 28 Apr. Read full announcement

(TOP) ~ Biological and Chemical Upgrading for Advance Biofuels and Products

EERE seeks diversification of the Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) portfolio to include a variety of chemical and biological upgrading technologies for the production of a suite of hydrocarbon fuels, fuel intermediates and chemicals (beyond ethanol) to be produced in an integrated fashion from biologically or chemically derived intermediate feed streams, such as but not limited to cellulosic sugars, lignocellulose derivatives, lignin, cellulosic alcohols, bio-solids and biogases. For the purposes of this FOA lignocellulosic sugars will not be allowable fuel intermediates. Deadline 13 Jun. Read full announcement

Conferences, Meetings and Reports

(TOP) ~ Agriculture's greenhouse gas emissions on the rise

ag emissionsGreenhouse Gas Emissions from Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries have nearly doubled over the past fifty years and could increase an additional 30 percent by 2050, according to the latest FAO estimates of greenhouse gas data which found that the largest source of GHG emissions within agriculture is enteric fermentation (when methane is produced by livestock during digestion and released via belches). Emissions generated during the application of synthetic fertilizers accounted for 13 percent of agricultural emissions (725 Mt CO2 eq.) in 2011, and are the fastest growing emissions source in agriculture. Greenhouse gases resulting from biological processes in rice paddies that generate methane make up 10 percent of total agricultural emissions, while the burning of savannahs accounts for 5 percent. Emissions from energy use in the agriculture sector generated from traditional fuel sources, including electricity and fossil fuels burned to power agricultural machinery, irrigation pumps and fishing vessels exceeded 785 million tonnes of CO2 eq. in 2010, having increased by 75 percent since 1990. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Secretary Vilsack appoints new members to USDA NAREEE advisory board

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the appointment of eight individuals to serve on the National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics (NAREEE) Advisory Board, including two ASA, CSSA, and SSSA members. Dr. Robert Taylor, at Florida A&M University, has been re-appointed to represent National Crop, Soil, Agronomy, Horticulture, or Weed Science Societies and Dr. Chandra Reddy, of Tennessee State University has been re-appointed to represent 1890 Land-Grant Colleges and Universities. See full list

(TOP) ~ University-based research: always a winner

Check out Dr. Machen’s op-ed about how universities are a “magnet” for researchers and described the federal government’s “key role” in research. Too often when one hears remarks about the importance of federally-funded research reference to agricultural research is omitted; however, in this case it is at least mentioned. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Climate change activists are prone to self-doubt

Years of climate change advocacy can cause even the staunchest environmentalists to second-guess themselves, a new study finds. The ups and downs of working on climate change and other environmental issues can lead supporters to develop self-doubts about long-held views, according to the study co-authored by University of Michigan professor Jane Dutton. It was published in the Academy of Management Journal. The report, "It's Not Easy Being Green: The Role of Self-Evaluations in Explaining Support of Environmental Issues," was co-authored by Scott Sonenshein of Rice University and Katherine DeCelles of the University of Toronto. The study looked at how environmentalists cope with working on lengthy campaigns that have uncertain outcomes. Issue advocates who believe they're making a difference are more likely to believe in their work, the report found. The research "reminds social issue supporters to broaden the lens for how they see and evaluate themselves," Dutton said. A recent poll found that environmental issues are resonating with most Americans. See the report

(TOP) ~ Dual turning point for biofuels

Seven years ago, President George W. Bush’s administration and Congress passed legislation promoting energy independence, part of which was a push for advanced biofuels. Today, the market is saturated with ethanol from corn, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering reducing the amount of advanced biofuels required for blending into vehicle fuels this year by more than 40 percent below the target in the 2007 legislation. Other things have changed since 2007 as well, including a boom in shale drilling, resulting in an increase in domestic oil. Also, more efficient cars and a sluggish economy have cut the demand for fuel. The energy act’s goal of 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels by 2022 is considered virtually unreachable, which highlights the disagreement over the potential for such fuels. Read full article

(TOP) ~ GMO foods and the tooth fairy

In this opinion piece, Dr. Robert T. Fraley, the executive vice president and chief technology officer of Monsanto, writes that we are going to need all the passion we can muster if humanity is to solve the problem of feeding 10 billion people 35 years from now. But we’ll also need science and reason, he says, which often take a backseat to emotion. In this blog piece, he offers some perspective on the myths that circulate about genetically modified (GM) crops – some of which have less substance than the Tooth Fairy, he adds. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Farming for improved ecosystem services seen as economically feasible

By changing row-crop management practices in economically and environmentally stable ways, US farms could contribute to improved water quality, biological diversity, pest suppression, and soil fertility while helping to stabilize the climate, according to an article in the May issue of BioScience. The article, based on research conducted over 25 years at the Kellogg Biological Station in southwest Michigan, further reports that Midwest farmers, especially those with large farms, appear willing to change their farming practices to provide these ecosystem services in exchange for payments. And a previously published survey showed that citizens are willing to make such payments for environmental services such as cleaner lakes. Read full article

(TOP) ~ USDA to co-host wood-to-biofuel conference

In conjunction with Washington State University Extension, USDA is co-hosting the Northwest Wood-Based Biofuels/Co-Products Conference. The conference will be April 28-30, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. The goal of the conference is to bring together the community of researchers, business leaders, government agencies, and economic development personnel to share and exchange research findings, ideas, and strategies for the common goal of sustainable development of wood-based bio-refineries for production of biofuels and co-products in the Pacific Northwest. Get more information

Congressional/Administration News

(TOP) ~ Cultivating a Healthy Future summit

ASA, CSSA, and SSSA co-sponsored a half-day summit in Washington, D.C. on the impacts of agriculture on human health. The summit described how public and private agriculture research programs can support healthy outcomes in people, plants, animals, and the environment. To hear more about the summit, follow the hashtag #healthyagpeople on Twitter.

(TOP) ~ White House support of agricultural innovation

In a letter to Julie Borlaug, President Obama praised her grandfather, agriculture pioneer Norman Borlaug’s work and showed support for the use of biotechnology as one of the tools that can help feed the world and combat climate change. Julie Borlaug posted the letter from President Obama online. Read full article

(TOP) ~ MSNBC’s Morning Joe discusses ‘brain drain’ article

brain drainA Morning Joe segment on April 18 discussed the issues highlighted in a Huffington Post article by Sam Stein. Read the article and see the clip

(TOP) ~ U.S. needs strong R&D portfolio to remain globally competitive

Six years ago, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression consumed the United States. Since then, many American jobs have vanished and have yet to return. Due to the global nature of today’s economy, the aftershocks of the Great Recession reverberated well beyond our own borders. This new, global economy is a highly technological one that rests upon scientific innovation through research and development. Therefore, in order for America to retain its dominant economic position in the world economy — and to pull itself out from this economic downturn — we must continue to support research for scientific innovation. Read full article

(TOP) ~ Major Obama proposal doesn't change ag rules, so why are farm groups worried?

A major new regulatory proposal from the U.S. EPA places nearly every stream and wetland under federal jurisdiction. It has received a harsh backlash from some of the country’s most powerful farm groups even though long-standing agricultural exemptions are not only retained, but new exemptions have been added. While some of the opposition appears to be rooted in a philosophical skepticism over federal regulation, the driving concern from agricultural groups appears to be less about what is currently proposed and more about what farmers and environmentalists expect could come next. One big concern for agricultural groups opposed to the proposal is what it would mean for ditches used to drain stormwater off fields or shuttle irrigation to them. Since agricultural runoff is exempt from pollution discharge requirements under the Clean Water Act (CWA), ditches running off farm fields generally do not require permits. Farmers and ranchers, however, worry that if the ditches and streams running through their property flow into polluted rivers and lakes downstream, then perhaps these smaller streams could end up needing a permit for where it flows into the larger water. Opponents to the proposal also worry that by clarifying which streams and creeks fall under federal jurisdiction, it makes things clearer for not just regulated industries, but for groups that want to challenge an activity – like a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO). Owners of CAFOs fighting enforcement actions have often contended the area in question is not a stream or wetland under the CWA.

(TOP) ~ Policy riders may slow spending bills

House and Senate Appropriations leaders hope to move the annual spending bills quickly with top-line funding already set, but as they’re among the only measures expected to see floor action in a high-stakes election year, they risk being caught up in policy fights. Highly politicized issues such as National Security Agency changes, immigration and gun control are among those likely to complicate leaders’ efforts to quickly advance the fiscal 2015 bills. House leaders have committed to debating the spending bills under an open rule - at least initially, meaning members cannot be blocked from offering specific amendments. Also, the rules that are supposed to prevent authorizing provisions from being included in appropriations measures are, in practice, easily waived and often not enforced. As a result, policy riders encouraging or barring federal agencies from carrying out an activity have become more common as partisanship, the earmark ban and tight discretionary spending caps have created a pent-up demand for legislating and messaging alike. Ultimately, all of the talk about a fast start for the appropriations season could end as those bills move from tightly controlled committee markups to the House floor as soon as next week and the Senate floor in June.

Sources: American Institute for Biological Sciences; American Physical Society; Climatewire; Congressional Quarterly; The Huffington Post; Meridian Institute; The New York Times; The Science Coalition; USDA

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.