Science Policy Report

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Note: Due to the Congressional recess, there will be no Science Policy Report on August 24. The next SPR will be posted on September 7.

Thank you, The Science Policy Office team.

10 August 2016

In This Issue:

Policy News

~ U.S. science groups have 20 questions for candidates
~ White House call to save U.S. soil natural resources
~ Science issues in the 2016 Republican and Democratic platforms
~ Better seed for a better life: the Senate should ratify the plant genetics treaty
~ GAO report on streamlining research grant requirements
~ When will food issues be on politicians’ plates?
~ Why food labeling has little to do with knowing what is in your food

Science News

~ Declining sulfur in agricultural watersheds
~ Iowa farmers ripped out prairie; now some hope it can save them
~ Anthrax outbreak in Russia thought to be result of thawing permafrost
~ What's good for crops not always good for the environment
~ When conservation efforts end up using more water
~ Impact of daily light integral on putting green establishment
~ Methane basics
~ Towards smarter crop plants to feed the world
~ Soil quality/health index assessment for on-farm sites
~ Schools nurture students’ agriculture interests
~ Environmentalists reconsider support for biofuels mandate

International Corner

~ Kenya feels Brexit effect as UK vote threatens Africa trade deal
~ Australia’s new government makes an about-face on climate research
~ The monsoon may not drive India's food-price inflation after all
~ Russian scientists bracing for massive job losses
~ Agriculture is Nigeria's ‘new oil’
~ Meet Europe's new science advice brigade

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ Sustainable Materials Management
~ Environmental Projects
~ Co-Optimization of Fuels and Engines
~ Promoting Sustainable Agriculture
~ Environmental Sustainability
~ 2017 NSF Alan T. Waterman Award
~ Early Career Research Program

Policy News

(TOP) ~ U.S. science groups have 20 questions for candidates

Politicians talk about issues they think will sway voters, a tenet that explains why U.S. presidential candidates never say much about science, research, and innovation on the campaign trail. That perennial silence frustrates scientific leaders, who feel that citizens deserve to know where the candidates stand on issues ranging from climate change to cybersecurity. So a coalition of 56 higher education and scientific organizations has come up with 20 questions whose answers could help voters choose from among Democrat Hillary Clinton, Republican Donald Trump, the Green Party’s Jill Stein, and Libertarian Gary Johnson. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ White House call to save U.S. soil natural resources

Soil plays critical roles in food security, climate mitigation, ecosystem function, and buffering against extreme weather events. Although it is essential for the stability of the planet, soil is disappearing at an alarming rate. In issuing a call to action for soil, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy seeks innovative actions from Federal agencies, academic scientists and engineers, farmers, entrepreneurs, businesses, advocates, and members of the public in a nationwide effort to impede soil loss, enhance soil genesis, and restore degraded soils. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Science issues in the 2016 Republican and Democratic platforms

Over the past two weeks, delegates from both the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee formally adopted their official party platforms. Both platforms include numerous policies and principles involving science policy issues. In regard to the environment, Republicans promise to eliminate the current Administration's Clean Power Plan; prohibit the EPA from regulating carbon dioxide; finish the Keystone XL Pipeline; and promote transferring environmental regulatory power from federal to state jurisdiction. They consider climate change to be "far from this nation's most pressing national security issue" and do not support international agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol or the Paris Agreement. The GOP platform also supports launching more scientific missions to space and investing basic and applied biomedical research. The Democratic platform supports public and private investments in science, technology, research, and development and calls for an expansion of the Obama Administration’s Cybersecurity National Action Plan. To combat climate change and protect the environment, Democrats state they will implement and expand pollution and efficiency standards, including the Clean Power Plan, and intend to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

(TOP) ~ Better seed for a better life: the Senate should ratify the plant genetics treaty

Preserving and improving global food security smartly creates economic opportunity here by alleviating poverty overseas. Recently Congress passed and President Obama recently signed into law the Global Food Security Act which authorizes U.S. efforts on international agricultural development. While it seems increasingly difficult, but important, to find areas of bipartisan support, we applaud Congress for acknowledging the problems of global hunger and coming together to solve those problems. Another area of opportunity where the Senate can achieve a bipartisan consensus on alleviating global food security while at the same time enhancing US economic potential is the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ GAO report on streamlining research grant requirements

Last month the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report that assessed federal agency efforts to streamline federal research grant administrative requirements. While the report acknowledges that agencies have made strides to reduce the regulatory burden on academic institutions, for example, by standardizing reporting requirements across agencies in a number of areas, it notes that more work needs to be done to further reduce administrative burdens. The report lays out a number of opportunities where improvements can be done such as postponing the submission of detailed budget information at the pre-award stage. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ When will food issues be on politicians’ plates?

Even though the cultural conversation around food and agriculture seems to grow louder every day, the American food system was on the sidelines here last week, as it is at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this week. Even among those most likely to push for it, food isn’t getting much attention as a political issue. Granted, it would be especially difficult to wedge food issues into what is shaping up to be one of the wildest elections in recent memory. And terrorism, immigration, racism and gun control seem more pressing than school lunch. Still, food could soon become a more lucrative piece of political currency, some politicians, pollsters and convention veterans say. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Why food labeling has little to do with knowing what is in your food

Congress has just assigned USDA the thankless task of overseeing a compromise law on “GMO labeling.”  The compromise was possible even for our fractious political system because the alternative was to allow the state of Vermont to demand a food labeling, segregation and tracking system that would severely disrupt the national food system. That was a clear-cut violation of the interstate commerce protections in the Constitution, but it would have taken years to be resolved in the courts. So, the USDA gets to come up with the details and elements of a rule-set which won’t end the tedious debates about “GMOs” or their labeling. USDA is likely to be criticized and sued no matter what they do. More importantly, the net effect of all of this will do very little to help Americans “know what is in their food.”  That assessment may sound harsh, but a quick review of the history of U.S. food labeling is rather sobering. Read the full article.

Science News

(TOP) ~ Declining sulfur in agricultural watersheds

Air pollution legislation to control fossil fuel sulfur emissions and the associated acid rain has worked—perhaps leading to the need for sulfur fertilizers for crop production. Sulfur is an important crop nutrient, but limited information is available about sulfur inputs, outputs, and balances in tile-drained agricultural fields and watersheds in the upper Midwest. In an open access article in the July–August 2016 issue of the Journal of Environmental Quality, researchers estimated long-term sulfur inputs and outputs in tile-drained agricultural watersheds, including measurements of sulfate in tiles and rivers. Sulfate concentrations and yields steadily declined in the Embarras and Kaskaskia rivers during the sampling period. There was evidence of deep groundwater inputs of sulfate in the Salt Fork watershed, with a much smaller input to the Embarras and none to the Kaskaskia. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Iowa farmers ripped out prairie; now some hope it can save them

There’s a wild presence in Tim Smith’s corn and soybean field that most farmers kill on sight. Most growers say prairie is a nuisance that can choke crops. But not Smith. He is proud of the three acres he planted in the middle of one of the most productive farms in the county. He was there to show it off, not spray it. This affection for prairie bucks a farming tradition that dates back to when settlers arrived in the Midwest to farm centuries ago and ripped out wild grasses to tame the earth. Over time, prairie was nearly eradicated. Farmers today are still destroying the little that is left. It is a colossal mistake, according to recent studies by researchers at Iowa State University. Not only does prairie, with its deep-rooted plants, soak up farm wastewater that pollutes rivers, it also enriches soil. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Anthrax outbreak in Russia thought to be result of thawing permafrost

Russia is fighting a mysterious anthrax outbreak in a remote corner of Siberia. Dozens of people have been hospitalized; one child has died. The government airlifted some families out because more than 2,000 reindeer have been infected. Officials don't know exactly how the outbreak started, but the current hypothesis is almost unbelievable: A heat wave has thawed the frozen soil there and with it, a reindeer carcass infected with anthrax decades ago. Some scientists think this incident could be an example of what climate change may increasingly surface in the tundra. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ What's good for crops not always good for the environment

What's good for crops is not always good for the environment. Nitrogen, a key nutrient for plants, can cause problems when it leaches into water supplies. Now, scientists have developed a model to calculate the age of nitrogen in corn and soybean fields, which could lead to improved fertilizer application techniques to promote crop growth while reducing leaching. Researchers Praveen Kumar and Dong Kook Woo of the University of Illinois published their results today in the journal Water Resources Research, a publication of the American Geophysical Union. The National Science Foundation (NSF) supported the research through its Critical Zone Observatory (CZO) for Intensively Managed Landscapes, one of 10 such NSF CZOs. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ When conservation efforts end up using more water

Water, we are repeatedly told, will be “next oil.” In the U.S., climate projections predict increasing drought frequency throughout most of the country. Around the world, political and even military conflicts due to water scarcity are multiplying. Water is a limited and essential resource, and we are becoming more sensitive to the need to use it wisely. So it probably seems like good news that the U.S. Interior and Agriculture Departments have pledged almost $50 million in new public investment to improve water efficiency in domestic agriculture. This money will build on the hundreds of millions of dollars that were allocated by federal and state agencies in the last two decades to subsidize the adoption of water-efficient technology and practices in farming. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Impact of daily light integral on putting green establishment

Previous research has provided excellent guidelines for warm-season putting green cultivar establishment; however, these studies were conducted at sites where the grass was grown in full sunlight. While adequate fertility, sprigging rates, and other inputs are key to a successful establishment of a putting green surface, other environmental factors and microclimates must be considered when establishing warm-season putting green cultivars, in particular, a reduced-light environment. A major constraint for successful ultradwarf bermudagrass putting green establishment is a reduced light environment due to the overall poor shade tolerance of bermudagrass. In a recent article in Crop Science, researchers report on the daily light integrals (DLI) required for successful bermudagrass and zoysiagrass putting green establishment. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Methane basics

What do you, cows, digesters and landfills all have in common? We all make methane gas. The methane in landfill is the same as ‘clean fuel’ natural gas. It is the same as the gas in anaerobic digesters. It is the same stuff that cows and people produce in their farts. So why is some of this good and some of this bad? First it is good to understand where methane comes from. Methane is a by- product of eating in an environment with little to no oxygen. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Towards smarter crop plants to feed the world

Plant scientists at Lancaster University, with support from the University of Illinois, have made an important advance in understanding the natural diversity of a key plant enzyme which could help us address the looming threat of global food security. Rubisco is the central enzyme responsible for photosynthesis in plants, it enables them to absorb carbon from the atmosphere, which they depend upon to live and grow. But until now, the extent of natural diversity of Rubisco across plant species was relatively unknown. In the most comprehensive study of its kind to date, the Lancaster University-led research team has discovered that some of the species they looked at had more effective and high-performing Rubisco than several of the major crops species, like wheat and soybean. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Soil quality/health index assessment for on-farm sites

Climate change progress has major implications for agricultural production in the Midwest. In response, farmers and soil scientists now need to seek ways to ensure continued corn productivity while minimizing environmental impacts of climate change. The soil quality/health index (SQI) assessment is an effective tool for assessing agronomic productivity and environmental quality. The SQI has to reflect the soil physical, chemical, and biological properties, and processes and interactions within each soil resource and their interactions within each soil. Also, the resiliency of soils is a key perspective for increasing agricultural production to meet the pressure of an increasing population. Several authors have suggested the concept of using a SQI to monitor soil resilience. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Schools nurture students’ agriculture interests

A dozen students in Meagan Slates’ plant sciences class at Penn Manor High School in Millersville, Pa., cluster in small groups in the school’s greenhouse. In a previous class, they’d trimmed the meristems of coleus plants, and now they’re measuring new growth with rulers. The coleus are among the few plants in the greenhouse after the school’s annual plant sale, but a week earlier, it had been teeming with flowers, vegetables and bedding plants that the students had grown themselves. Learning by doing is the norm rather than the exception in Penn Manor’s Agriculture Education program. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Environmentalists reconsider support for biofuels mandate

Environmentalists who once championed biofuels as a way to cut pollution are now turning against a U.S. program that puts renewable fuels in cars, citing higher-than-expected carbon dioxide emissions and reduced wildlife habitat. More than a decade after conservationists helped persuade Congress to require adding corn-based ethanol and other biofuels to gasoline, some groups regret the resulting agricultural runoff in waterways and conversion of prairies to cropland -- improving the odds that lawmakers might seek changes to the program next year. Read the full article.

International Corner

(TOP) ~ Kenya feels Brexit effect as UK vote threatens Africa trade deal

Millions of Kenyans’ livelihoods are at risk after Tanzania and Uganda refused to sign a proposed regional trade deal with the EU over concerns about Brexit and the impact the agreement might have on east African economies, industry associations in Kenya have warned. The failure threatens Kenya’s €1.1bn annual flower and horticulture exports to the EU, because if the agreement is not signed by October 1 the goods will incur tariffs. It could also trigger price rises for these items in Europe, as Kenya accounts for more than 25 per cent of EU flower imports and about one-seventh of its fruit and vegetable imports. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Australia’s new government makes an about-face on climate research

Australia’s new science minister has ordered the nation’s premier science agency to “put the focus back on climate science.” And Australian scientists have their fingers crossed, hoping the directive from Greg Hunt, revealed this morning, really indicates the federal government is reversing a previous decision to scale back climate research efforts. They also hope the U-turn might mean a rethink of a February realignment of priorities by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) that called for eliminating 350 jobs, including 110 climate science positions. The agency later scaled back the job cuts to 295 positions, including more than 60 climate and marine scientists. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ The monsoon may not drive India's food-price inflation after all

The monsoon season is a much-vaunted fixture of the Indian social calendar unleashing celebrations as the rainfall brings relief from the summer heat. It's also seen as a key fixture in the economic calendar. Although the monsoon season does greatly affect India’s agricultural production, Indian economist Kunal Kumar Kundu recently suggested that it is government policies—ranging from the use of ground water in production, to the government's Minimum Support Price program offered to farmers to procure food grains—that have the greatest impact on food prices. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Russian scientists bracing for massive job losses

Russia’s scientific community is reeling from news that the government plans to fire about 10,000 researchers over the next 3 years. Most layoffs would be from Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) institutes, according to the online news site The staff cuts, representing about 17% of RAS’s 49,000-strong workforce, are the latest move in a controversial and painful effort to overhaul the academy. The Federal Agency for Scientific Organizations (FASO), set up in 2013 to manage RAS’s property and most of its budget, has recently stepped up efforts to make the academy leaner and meaner by merging institutes; several dozen mergers are planned. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Agriculture is Nigeria's ‘new oil’

Agriculture is the "new oil" for Nigeria and the only way to get the country out of the present economic downturn, the Director General, Budget Office of the Federation, Ben Akabueze, has said. Akabueze said there were two alternatives to oil-agriculture (as Nigeria's best shot to improved economy) and solid minerals, where Nigeria still had a long way to go. Explaining the opportunities in agriculture, he said over 79million hectares of the total land mass in Nigeria were arable with less than 50% already being cultivated. "Nigeria is only behind Brazil with this much arable land mass," he said. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Meet Europe's new science advice brigade

Too many cooks spoil the broth, goes the saying. Could too many advisers spoil the advice? On the contrary, say the seven scientists who front the European Commission's new Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM), and who collectively replaced the single-headed role of chief scientific adviser last year. Their “200 years of combined experience" is a strength, boasts microbiologist Henrik Wegener, chairman of the so-called High Level Group and executive vice president of the Technical University of Denmark in Kongens Lyngby. The group, nicknamed the “magnificent seven” by Robert-Jan Smits, the commission's director-general for research, is made up of three women and four men from a range of disciplines, countries, and ages—a mix of backgrounds reminiscent of the carefully assembled skill set of the characters in the heist movie Ocean's Eleven. Read the full article.

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

(TOP) ~ Sustainable Materials Management

EPA Region 7 is soliciting applications that address one or more of the three National Sustainable Materials Management Priorities identified in Section I below AND have Region-wide reach or target activities in one or more of the Region 7 “Making a Visible Difference” communities. These projects must be implemented in Region 7. (Region 7 encompasses the states of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.) This funding supports EPA’s Strategic Goal 3: Cleaning Up Communities and Advancing Sustainable Development. The Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) program vision: Protect human health and the environment by advancing the sustainable use of materials throughout their lifecycle to minimize waste and environmental impacts. The three SMM national strategic priorities are: The Built Environment, Sustainable Food Management, Sustainable Packaging. Deadline, August 29. Read the full announcement.

(TOP) ~ Environmental Projects

The V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation was founded with the aim of strengthening environmental research, including research on climate change, unsustainable consumption, and loss of biodiversity. The foundation gives priority in its grantmaking to projects that take stock of the scale of environmental problems; use a systems approach to achieve change; link policy, advocacy, and practical solutions; have international significance and perspective (even if U.S.-based); and incorporate original thinking and creative ideas. Currently, the foundation is considering projects or tools that promote ecosystem resilience and restoration of relevance to large geographic areas, including countries and continents; natural greenhouse gas sequestration and storage with large-scale impact potential; agro-biodiversity; and economic models of living within global limits and the practical implementation of changes needed to achieve sustainable consumption/production and a stable global ecosystem. Projects that communicate value-based living; new initiatives aimed at enhancing international cooperation and knowledge-sharing; and next generation leadership are also encouraged. Letter of Intent deadline, September 14. Read the full announcement.

(TOP) ~ Co-Optimization of Fuels and Engines

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) and Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO) announce a joint funding opportunity in support of the Co-Optimization of Fuels and Engines (Co-Optima) initiative. Eligibility for this FOA is restricted to U.S. Institutions of Higher Education and non-profit research institutions that operate as a division under the U.S. Institutions of Higher Education. This restricted eligibility applies to both Prime Recipients and Subrecipients. The Co-Optima initiative seeks to accelerate the introduction of affordable, scalable, and sustainable high performance fuels for use in high-efficiency, low-emission engines. This first-of-its-kind effort brings together multiple DOE offices, DOE National Laboratories, and industry stakeholders to simultaneously conduct tandem fuel and engine research and development and deployment assessment in order to maximize energy savings and on-road vehicle performance, while dramatically reducing transportation-related petroleum consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Concept Letter deadline, September 18. Read the full announcement.

(TOP) ~ Promoting Sustainable Agriculture

The North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (NCR-SARE) is seeking grant funding pre-proposals which must address issues of sustainable agriculture of current and potential importance to the North Central Region. NCR-SARE is interested in projects that lead to resilient agricultural systems. Successful projects should contribute to the following NCR-SARE broad-based outcomes: Improving the profitability of farmers/ranchers and associated agricultural businesses; Sustaining and improving the environmental quality and natural resource base on which agriculture depends; and Enhancing the quality of life for farmers/ranchers, communities, and society as a whole. Deadline, October 20. Read the full announcement.

(TOP) ~ Environmental Sustainability

The goal of the Environmental Sustainability program is to promote sustainable engineered systems that support human well-being and that are also compatible with sustaining natural (environmental) systems.  These systems provide ecological services vital for human survival.  Research efforts supported by the program typically consider long time horizons and may incorporate contributions from the social sciences and ethics. The program supports engineering research that seeks to balance society's need to provide ecological protection and maintain stable economic conditions. There are four principal general research areas that are supported: 1) Industrial Ecology; 2) Green Engineering; 3) Ecological Engineering; and 4) Earth Systems Engineering. Deadline, October 20. Read the full announcement.

(TOP) ~ 2017 NSF Alan T. Waterman Award

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is pleased to accept nominations for the 2017 Alan T. Waterman Award. Each year, the Foundation bestows the Waterman Award in recognition of the talent, creativity, and influence of a singular young researcher. Established in 1975 to commemorate the Foundation's first Director, the Waterman Award is NSF's highest honor for promising, early-career, researchers. Nominees are accepted from all sources, from any field of science and engineering that NSF supports. The award recipient will receive a medal and an invitation to the formal awards ceremony in Washington, DC. In addition, the recipient will receive a grant of $1,000,000 over a five-year period for scientific research or advanced study in any field of science or engineering supported by the National Science Foundation, at any institution of the recipient's choice. Application deadline, October 21. Read the full annoucement.

(TOP) ~ Early Career Research Program

The Office of Science of the Department of Energy hereby invites grant applications for support under the Early Career Research Program in the following program areas: Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR); Biological and Environmental Research (BER); Basic Energy Sciences (BES), Fusion Energy Sciences (FES); High Energy Physics (HEP), and Nuclear Physics (NP). The purpose of this program is to support the development of individual research programs of outstanding scientists early in their careers and to stimulate research careers in the areas supported by the DOE Office of Science. Deadline, November 14. Read the full announcement.

Sources: USDA; NSF; DOE-SC; EPA; Rasmussen Foundation; GAO; AAAS; ScienceInsider; The White House Blog; Agri-Pulse; The New York Times; Forbes; Washington Post; NPR; Bloomberg; Huffington Post; USA Today; EurekaAlert; Farm Futures; Financial Times; All Africa

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.