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Science Policy Report

Address all comments to the Science Policy Office at:
sciencepolicy@sciencesocieties.org

15 November 2017

In This Issue:

Policy News

~ New tax bill could significantly increase grad student taxes
~ Trump pick for USDA chief scientist withdraws nomination
~ House Science Chairman, Lamar Smith, retiring
~ Trump’s agriculture department reverses course on biotech rules
~ Government report provides most recent evidence of climate change
~ EPA to block scientists who get agency funding from serving as advisers
~ House Science Committee holds hearing on agriculture research
~ Presidential memorandum on unmanned aircraft systems

Science News

~ Soil Health Institute, lum.ai and Tri-Societies partner to accelerate soil health research
~ High-res soil surface mapping
~ Hypoxia Task Force reports to Congress
~ 3-D crop imaging helps agriculture estimate plant height
~ Irrigated agricultural impacts on water quantity in humid regions
~ Adding organic matter to soil has a limited effect on water holding capacity
~ New app makes it easier for farmers to identify, manage corn ear rots, mycotoxins
~ NAS holds Sackler Colloquium for the Science of Science Communication
~ Call for Public Comments: 2nd State of the Carbon Cycle Report (SOCCR-2)

International Corner

~ Here’s how far the world is from meeting its climate goals
~ EU countries reject proposal to renew glyphosate for five years
~ Africa pushes for gains on genetic materials
~ UK government appoints next chief scientific adviser
~ Forget rice, dish up Aztec pigweed to help feed the world
~ Global climate change threatens nutrition levels in staple crops

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ DOE Office of Science SBIR/STTR Phase II
~ Biotechnology Risk Assessment Research Grants Program
~ DOD Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program – Core Proposals
~ National Forest Foundation – Matching Awards Program
~ Methyl Bromide Transition Program
~ Research Coordination Networks in Undergraduate Biology Education
~ International Research Experiences for Students

Policy News


(TOP) ~ New tax bill could significantly increase grad student taxes

The recently unveiled Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1) eliminates the non-taxable treatment of tuition reductions for graduate students – significantly increasing the potential tax burden on graduate students. Current law significantly lowers the cost of graduate education by providing many Ph.D. and Masters students with a non-taxable tuition reductions while they serve as teaching or research assistants. Under H.R. 1, tuition reductions will be counted as taxable income and ultimately cost graduate students thousands of dollars per year. If the repeal is approved, getting an advanced degree in the U.S. could become unaffordable. ASA, CSSA and SSSA sent a letter to the House Ways and Means Committee asking them to reconsidering the changes to grad student tuition reductions. Email your members of Congress today and urge them to keep graduate student tuition reductions as non-taxable. Learn more and email Congress here.


(TOP) ~ Trump pick for USDA chief scientist withdraws nomination

Former Trump campaign aide, Sam Clovis, who has been swept up in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe, has withdrawn his name from consideration to be USDA's Under Secretary of Research, Education and Economics. Clovis sent a letter to President Trump announcing his decision amid revelations that he was among top officials on the Trump campaign who was aware of efforts by foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos to broker a relationship between the campaign and Russian officials. Clovis had been a contentious pick as USDA's chief scientist even before his connection to the Russia probe, given the fact that he has no experience in the hard sciences. The timing of his withdrawal means that USDA research will likely be without an advocate during the majority of the FY 2019 budget development. Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young will continue to serve as the Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics until a new nominee has been confirmed. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ House Science Chairman, Lamar Smith, retiring

House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) announced via his Twitter account that he would not be seeking reelection after his current term ends in 2018. Smith will complete his full six-year term as committee chairman by the end of 2018 and would have had to relinquish his role as chairman at that time anyway. He previously served as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and was instrumental in passing patent reform legislation before moving to chair the House Science Committee. Though Smith sees himself as a science enthusiast, he has at times clashed with academia, scientific organizations and government representatives. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Trump’s agriculture department reverses course on biotech rules

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has withdrawn a plan to overhaul how it regulates biotechnology products such as genetically engineered (GE) crops. The proposed rules, released in January as part of a broader update to federal biotech regulations, would have formally exempted some modern gene-edited plants from regulation, but industry and academic groups worried it would also add more onerous requirements for safety assessments early in the development of such products. Nearly 950 comments that were received, including those from CSSA. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Government report provides most recent evidence of climate change

U.S. Global Change Research Program’s (USGCRP) Climate Science Special Report (CSSR), which serves as Volume I of the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4), describes current trends in the climate globally and for the U.S., and projects trends in temperature, precipitation, sea-level rise and Arctic sea ice for the remainder of this century. The report, written and reviewed by leading U.S. scientists as part of the National Climate Assessment, reinforces that warming temperatures and extreme weather around the globe are “extremely likely” to be the result of carbon pollution from human activities. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ EPA to block scientists who get agency funding from serving as advisers

Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, stripped a half-dozen scientists and academics of advisory positions Tuesday and issued new rules barring anyone who receives E.P.A. grant money from serving on panels that counsel the agency on scientific decisions. The move will effectively bar a large number of academic researchers, many of them experts in fields ranging from toxicology to epidemiology, from advising the EPA on scientific matters, since the agency is one of the largest funders of environmental research. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ House Science Committee holds hearing on agriculture research

On Thursday, November 2, the House Science Subcommittee on Research and Technology held a hearing on “A Review of the Importance of Agriculture Research.” The goal of this hearing is to examine the scope, value and impact of federal agriculture research, and to provide an overview of federal agriculture research at the USDA and Department of Homeland Security. The subcommittee and all witnesses highlighted the value of and need for agricultural research funding. Witnesses included ASA and CSSA member, Dr. Stephen P. Moose, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Read witness testimony and view a webcast of the hearing here.


(TOP) ~ Presidential memorandum on unmanned aircraft systems

On October 25, the Office of Science and Technology Policy released a Presidential Memorandum directing the Secretary of Transportation to establish an Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program. The memorandum reflects a meeting that OSTP held in June with federal aviation representatives, business leaders working with commercial drones and other industry groups. The purpose of the pilot program is to bring related stakeholder groups together to craft regulatory policies that will allow for expanding commercial use of drones while protecting national airspace. The memorandum did not, however, mention the use of drones for research purposes. Read the full article.

Science News


(TOP) ~ Soil Health Institute, lum.ai and Tri-Societies partner to accelerate soil health research

The Soil Health Institute, The American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Soil Science Society of America and lum.ai are partnering on a project that uses natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning (ML) to accelerate the retrieval and use of soil health research. Lum.ai developed an NLP tool that takes unstructured text and turns it into structured data. Given the pace of discovery and evolving needs in scientific domains, rapid access to published research in an increasing number of publications continues to be a critical and growing challenge. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ High-res soil surface mapping

Soil surface mapping at high resolution provides insight into gas and water transports at the soil-atmosphere interface, which control biogeochemical reactions occurring in soil pores connected to the atmosphere. McGill researchers developed and tested a new flexible procedure for high-resolution soil surface mapping (HRSSM) in undisturbed cores, with images constructed from X-ray computed tomography scanning. The procedure includes detecting boundaries at the soil-air interface, edge cleaning, and removal of artifacts by use of a moving window with optimized size. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Hypoxia Task Force reports to Congress

The Hypoxia Task Force is releasing its 2017 Report to Congress on the actions the federal, state, and tribal members have taken toward the goal of reducing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin (MARB) and shrinking the size of the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone. The report discusses the environmental, economic, and social impacts of Gulf of Mexico hypoxia and harmful algal blooms and provides information about the size of the hypoxic zone since 1985 and sources of nutrient loading in the MARB. It also describes the progress of state nutrient reduction strategy development and implementation and discusses federal agency programs that support state implementation of nutrient reduction strategies. Read the full report.


(TOP) ~ 3-D crop imaging helps agriculture estimate plant height

Building three-dimensional point clouds from high-resolution photos taken from unmanned aerial vehicles or drones may soon help plant breeders and agronomists save time and money compared with measuring crops manually. Crop researchers and breeders need two types of data when determining what crop improvement selections to make: genetic and phenotypic, which are the physical characteristics of the plant. Great strides have been made in genetics, but much work still needs to be done in measuring the physical traits of any crop in a timely and efficient manner. Currently, most measurements are taken from the ground by walking through fields and measuring. Over the past few years, UAV photos have been tested to see what role they can play in helping determine characteristics such as plant height. Measured over time, UAVs can help assess the influence of environmental conditions on plant performance. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Irrigated agricultural impacts on water quantity in humid regions

Groundwater irrigation is rapidly increasing throughout humid landscapes underlain by coarse-grained aquifers in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan. Because surface waters are primarily groundwater-fed in these regions, pumping for irrigation depletes lakes, streams, and wetlands. Policy makers, growers, and regulators require better field estimates of water use from irrigated agroecosystems to manage water and predict future impacts. In a multi-year study recently published in Vadose Zone Journal, researchers partnered with a family farm in the Wisconsin Central Sands region to estimate evapotranspiration and potential recharge from irrigated crops. The team found that precipitation patterns and subtle differences in soil texture were often stronger drivers of potential recharge than crop type. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Adding organic matter to soil has a limited effect on water holding capacity

Sequestering carbon in the soil via the addition of organic matter has been widely promoted for the mitigation of climate change. Enhancing soil organic matter can improve soil quality, i.e., increasing nutrient retention, improving soil structure, enhancing soil biotic activity and improving soil moisture and temperature regimes. Adding organic matter has also been widely promoted for increasing soil's water holding capacity. It was suggested as a means to buffer yields against future variable weather conditions. While the positive effect of OM on soil water retention is much studied and widely promoted, there is still no clear consensus on its quantitative effect. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ New app makes it easier for farmers to identify, manage corn ear rots, mycotoxins

Current tools make it impossible for U.S. corn growers to guarantee that their crop will contain acceptable levels of mycotoxins, such as aflatoxins and fumonisins. Corn ear rots occur when certain fungi infect corn. Several of those fungi produce mycotoxins, which can be harmful to livestock and humans if contaminated grain is used in livestock feed or human food products. A new mobile app developed by researchers from Purdue University and the University of Arkansas will make it easier for farmers to access information about corn ear rot and mycotoxins. The app, available as a free download, helps users identify common ear rots and determine safe levels for the use of grain affected by mycotoxins. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ NAS holds Sackler Colloquium for the Science of Science Communication

On November 16-17, the Arthur M. Sackler Colloquia of the National Academy of Sciences will host its third Science of Science Communication event to survey the art of empirical social science research in science communication. This year’s theme focuses on exploring “ways to build capacity for and foster the use of evidence-based strategies for engaging the public with science and ensuring its appropriate use.” Hear from researchers, practitioners, content experts, and philanthropists, all vested in ensuring that evidence-based science communication thrives. Register for the webcast here.


(TOP) ~ Call for Public Comments: 2nd State of the Carbon Cycle Report (SOCCR-2)

The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), on behalf of the Carbon Cycle Interagency Working Group (CCIWG)/U.S. Carbon Cycle Science Program and the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), is seeking public comments on a draft assessment, the 2nd State of the Carbon Cycle Science Report (SOCCR-2), which provides updated carbon cycle science findings and projections, and is an important input to the authors of the next quadrennial National Climate Assessment (NCA), expected in 2018. Submit comments to the SOCCR-2 through January 8, 2018 via the SGCRP Review and Comment System. Submit comments here.

International Corner


(TOP) ~ Here’s how far the world is from meeting its climate goals

Two years after countries signed a landmark climate agreement in Paris, the world remains far off course from preventing drastic global warming in the decades ahead. On Monday, the latest round of post-Paris international climate talks begin in Bonn, Germany, to discuss how to step up efforts. Under the Paris deal, each country put forward a proposal to curtail its greenhouse-gas emissions between now and 2030. But no major industrialized country is currently on track to fulfill its pledge, according to new data from the Climate Action Tracker. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ EU countries reject proposal to renew glyphosate for five years

An EU vote has failed to resolve a controversy over the use of glyphosate, the world's biggest-selling weedkiller. The current license runs out in the EU on 15 December, but only half of the 28 member states backed a European Commission proposal to renew the license for five years. An EU appeal committee will now try to rule on the issue. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) says glyphosate is unlikely to cause cancer in humans. Critics say widespread use of glyphosate reduces biodiversity, by killing plants that are essential for many insects and other animals. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Africa pushes for gains on genetic materials

African nations are pushing for a review of an access and benefit sharing framework for exploration of genetic materials obtained from farmers in developing countries. African countries raised their concerns at the seventh Session of the Governing Body of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture held in Kigali last week, which seeks to expand the basket of crops exchanged through the Treaty's Multilateral System. The Treaty's Multilateral System seeks to remove restrictions to diverse genetic materials stored in gene banks by scientific institutions, plant breeders and other sector players. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ UK government appoints next chief scientific adviser

Patrick Vallance, president of research and development at the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, has been appointed as chief scientific adviser, the UK government announced on 8 November. Vallance, a clinical pharmacologist who previously led the medical division at University College London, will replace Mark Walport in April 2018. Walport has left the government to become head of a powerful new funding body called UK Research and Innovation. As chief scientific adviser, Vallance will advise the prime minister and her cabinet, the government’s most senior decision-making body. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Forget rice, dish up Aztec pigweed to help feed the world

From Aztec pigweed to dragon beans - several ancient, often forgotten foods are making their way to the dinner table in an effort to diversify the diet of a growing global population. In an initiative to cut the world’s dependency on major crops like wheat and rice - Britain’s Prince Charles has launched the Forgotten Foods Network to rediscover long-lost crops, fruit and vegetables. Ancient food like pigweed once eaten by the Aztecs can be eaten raw or be ground into flour - one of many crops that could add valuable nutrients to a limited modern diet, say experts. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Global climate change threatens nutrition levels in staple crops

New research suggests that declining levels of iron, zinc and protein resulting from high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are putting human health at risk, especially in the developing world. In a paper published in Nature, Harvard scientist Dr. Sam Myers and other researchers showed that staple food crops lose between five and ten percent of iron, zinc and protein when grown at 550 parts per million of carbon. This led them to wonder how many people would be at risk of nutrient deficiencies if they maintained their current intake of these crops. They found that 150 to 200 hundred million more people would likely be pushed into nutrient deficiencies, on top of the millions of people who already suffer from this condition. Read the full article.

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities


(TOP) ~ DOE Office of Science SBIR/STTR Phase II

The DOE invites eligible Phase I and Phase II grantees to apply for Phase II grants (both initial and sequential) under this Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA). Topic descriptions for this FOA can be found on the DOE SBIR/STTR web site. The purpose of an Initial Phase II grant is to perform the research and development (R&D) required to meet the DOE objectives stated in the topic and subtopic of the Phase I FOA. In addition, it is intended that the small business grantee would be in a position to pursue commercial applications of the R&D at the end of Phase II. In many cases, Phase II results in a prototype, product, or a working process that can be demonstrated to a potential investor or customer. Letter of Intent deadline, December 18. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Biotechnology Risk Assessment Research Grants Program

The purpose of the BRAG program is to support the generation of new information that will assist Federal regulatory agencies in making science-based decisions about the effects of introducing into the environment genetically engineered organisms (GE), including plants, microorganisms — such as fungi, bacteria, and viruses — arthropods, fish, birds, mammals and other animals excluding humans. Investigations of effects on both managed and natural environments are relevant. The BRAG program accomplishes its purpose by providing federal regulatory agencies with scientific information relevant to regulatory issues. See the Request for Applications (RFA) for details. View the Centers of Excellence (COE) webpage to access a factsheet on the COE designation process, including COE criteria, and a list of programs offering COE opportunities in fiscal year 2016. You can also review a recording of COE outreach webinars held in February and March of 2015 from the site. The COE webpages will be updated throughout FY 2016 with additional information, such as a summary of comments received from stakeholders. Letter of Intent deadline, December 21. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ DOD Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program – Core Proposals

The Department of Defense’s (DoD) Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) is seeking to fund environmental research and development proposals.  The Program invests across the broad spectrum of basic and applied research, as well as advanced development. Proposals responding to focused Statements of Need (SONs) in the following areas are requested: 1) Environmental Restoration; 2) Munitions Response; 3) Resource Conservation and Resiliency; and 4) Weapons Systems and Platforms. Pre-proposal deadline, January 4. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ National Forest Foundation – Matching Awards Program

The National Forest Foundation was established by Congress to support the Forest Service in its management of America’s National Forests and Grasslands. The Foundation’s Matching Awards Program (MAP) provides grants to nonprofit organizations, universities, and Native American tribes throughout the U.S. to engage in on-the-ground conservation and restoration projects that have an immediate, quantifiable impact on the National Forest System. Funded projects must address one of the following focus areas: The Outdoor Experiences category supports projects that improve the quality, condition, and care of outdoor experiences in National Forests. The Forest Health category supports citizen-involved projects that maintain or restore ecosystem resiliency in National Forests. The Foundation also encourages projects that cohesively integrate the Outdoor Experiences and Forest Health program areas. In addition to focusing on the above Program Areas, MAP requires projects show a strong commitment to civic engagement and community involvement through direct public involvement. All grants require at least a one-to-one cash match through non-federal donations. MAP also requires projects to show a strong commitment to civic engagement and community involvement through the direct involvement of the public. Deadline, January 23. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Methyl Bromide Transition Program

The methyl bromide transition program (MBT) addresses the immediate needs and the costs of transition that have resulted from the scheduled phase-out of the pesticide methyl bromide. Methyl bromide has been a pest and disease control tactic critical to pest management systems for decades for soilborne and postharvest pests. The program focuses on integrated commercial-scale research on methyl bromide alternatives and associated extension activity that will foster the adoption of these solutions. Projects should cover a broad range of new methodologies, technologies, systems, and strategies for controlling economically important pests for which methyl bromide has been the only effective pest control option. Research projects must address commodities with critical issues and include a focused economic analysis of the cost of implementing the transition on a commercial scale. Deadline, January 30. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Research Coordination Networks in Undergraduate Biology Education

The goal of the Research Coordination Networks (RCN) program is to advance a field or create new directions in research or education by supporting groups of investigators to communicate and coordinate their research, training, and educational activities across disciplinary, organizational, geographic, and international boundaries. The RCN-UBE program seeks to improve undergraduate biology in different areas by leveraging the power of a collaborative network. The theme or focus of an RCN-UBE proposal can be on any topic likely to advance the goal of enhancing undergraduate biology education. The RCN-UBE provides opportunities to foster new collaborations (including international partnerships), to address interdisciplinary topics, to explore innovative ideas for implementing novel networking strategies, to explore collaborative technologies, and to develop community standards. Deadline, January 30. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ International Research Experiences for Students

The International Research Experiences for Students (IRES) program supports international research and research-related activities for U.S. science and engineering students. This solicitation features three mechanisms; proposers are required to select one of the following tracks to submit their proposal. Track I focuses on the development of world-class research skills in international cohort experiences. Track II is dedicated to targeted, intensive learning and training opportunities that leverage international knowledge at the frontiers of research. Track III calls for U.S. institutional partnerships and coalitions to develop and evaluate innovative models for high-impact, large-scale international research and professional development experiences for graduate students, as individuals or groups. Track I deadline, January 30; Track II deadline, February 6; Track III deadline, February 13. Read the full announcement.

Sources: USDA; NSF; NOAA; DOD; EPA; FFAR; CAST; AAAS; ScienceInsider; Politico; Vox; New York Times; House Science Committee; The White House; CRS Wire; Agri Life Today; Physics.org; PressReleasePoint; US Carbon Cycle Science Program; BBC News; All Africa; Nature; Reuters; Pubblic radio International

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.