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Science Policy Report

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13 July 2016

In This Issue:

Policy News

~ Senate passes GM food labeling bill
~ Congress passes Global Food Security Act
~ House panel is generous to new federal STEM program
~ Senate panel approves $500M for international climate fund

Science News

~ Spatial and temporal variability of soil water content
~ USDA seeks nominations for NAREE Advisory Board
~ The paradox of American farmers and climate change
~ More than 100 Nobel Laureates take on Greenpeace over GMO stance
~ Why you should avoid predatory journals, welcome rigorous review
~ Genome to phenome mapping in apple using historical data
~ The next phase for agriculture technology
~ Iowa State research shows perennials would reduce nutrient runoff to the Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone
~ Commentary: The weather whisperer

International Corner

~ French scientists oppose nominee to head agricultural research institute
~ Clean water fund draws investors
~ U.K. government enlists industry leaders to chart post-Brexit course for life sciences
~ India tomato shortage causes curry crisis and puts sellers under pressure

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ Plant Pest and Disease Management and Disaster Prevention Program
~ National Academy of Sciences Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences
~ Partnerships for Innovation: Accelerating Innovation Research-Technology Translation
~ Agriculture and Natural Resources Science for Climate Variability and Change Challenge Area

Policy News


(TOP) ~ Senate passes GM food labeling bill

The U.S. Senate has passed, by a vote of 63 to 30, a bill that would create a national standard for labeling food made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Yesterday’s vote marks a win for food companies, farm groups, and biotech firms, which have been pushing the federal government to set a single national standard in hopes of heading off a patchwork of state labeling laws, such as one that went into effect in Vermont on 1 July. But GMO critics say the bill fails to adequately protect consumers who want to know if a product contains GM ingredients. The House Rules Committee on Tuesday approved a rule for floor consideration of the Senate-passed GMO labeling bill, teeing up a final vote on the measure. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Congress passes Global Food Security Act

U.S. government programs helping farmers in developing countries withstand climate change now have stronger backing from Congress. Last week, the House passed the “Global Food Security Act of 2016,” authorizing a “comprehensive strategic approach” for U.S. foreign assistance programs that address poverty, hunger and malnutrition, and increase resilience of vulnerable communities. The bill represented a rare moment of strong bipartisan support in Congress and will help secure the future of one of the Obama administration’s longest-running aid programs. The Senate version, introduced last year by Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.), passed in April. Now the measure awaits the president’s signature. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ House panel is generous to new federal STEM program

The prospects for federal support of science in schools across the United States took a turn for the better this week as a key congressional panel weighed in on the annual budget process. At issue is the fate of the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants (SSAEG). The Every Student Succeeds Act authorizes the SSAEG program at $1.65 billion, with the money to be distributed to each state through block grants. But last month the Senate appropriations panel allocated only $300 million, less than 20% of the enacted level and $200 million below what the Obama administration had requested in its 2017 budget request to Congress. The equivalent subpanel in the House of Representatives approved a spending bill that was much more generous to SSAEG, allocating it $1 billion. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Senate panel approves $500M for international climate fund

During last week's markup of the State Department and Foreign Operations funding bill, a bipartisan amendment introduced by Sens.  Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) was approved to allow the transfer of $500 million to the United Nations Green Climate Fund (GCF), which helps developing countries adapt to climate change. The amendment, approved on a voice vote, builds on the President's pledge in 2014 to contribute a total of $3 billion to the GCF. The House version of the State-Foreign Operations spending bill, however, includes a provision preventing the transfers of funds to the GCF. Read the full article.

Science News


(TOP) ~ Spatial and temporal variability of soil water content

The topsoil water content plays a key role in partitioning energy and water fluxes at the land surface. Knowledge about its spatial and temporal variability is crucial for improving climate and hydrology modeling. In the June 2016 issue of Vadose Zone Journal, researchers studied the spatial heterogeneity of topsoil water content, which is expressed as the relationship of the spatial standard deviation of the topsoil soil moisture to the spatial mean soil moisture. Past studies have shown that sq first increases during drying out, reaches maximum value at some critical spatial mean soil moisture and then decreases thereafter. However, the drying out and rewetting processes sequentially alternate each other in time, and this relationship demonstrates hysteresis. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ USDA seeks nominations for NAREE Advisory Board

USDA has opened a request for nominations to fill vacancies on the National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics (NAREE) Advisory Board and its subcommittees. There are 7 vacancies on the NAREE Advisory Board, 3 vacancies on the Specialty Crop Committee, 4 vacancies on the National Genetics Advisory Council, and 6 vacancies on the Citrus Disease Committee. Nomination deadline, July 29.  Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ The paradox of American farmers and climate change

There’s a strange paradox in the world of agriculture: farmers are perhaps the segment of the population most affected by climate change, and yet a significant number of them don’t believe in it—especially the notion that it’s man-made. I encountered this phenomenon as I reported a feature for Fortune on how agricultural giant Monsanto is attempting to help farmers both mitigate their impact on the environment and adapt to climate change. All the farmers I talked to readily acknowledged that the weather patterns governing growing seasons had been turned upside down in recent years, but I was on the receiving end of a lot of eye rolls whenever I brought up climate change. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ More than 100 Nobel Laureates take on Greenpeace over GMO stance

More than 100 Nobel laureates have signed a letter urging Greenpeace to end its opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The letter asks Greenpeace to cease its efforts to block introduction of a genetically engineered strain of rice that supporters say could reduce Vitamin-A deficiencies causing blindness and death in children in the developing world. The letter campaign was organized by Richard Roberts, chief scientific officer of New England Biolabs and, with Phillip Sharp, the winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for the discovery of genetic sequences known as introns. The campaign has a website, supportprecisionagriculture.org, includes a running list of the signatories. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Why you should avoid predatory journals, welcome rigorous review

Did you hear that eating cowpeas could play a vital role in managing diabetes? It was in a “peer-reviewed journal” so it must be true. That phrase “peer reviewed journal” has traditionally carried quite a bit of weight in scientific circles.  Those in science assume it means that the cowpea manuscript, submitted to the journal was evaluated by an editor and probably at least two independent experts that work in that field of science. By the time that article published it was presumed to be a well-run study and that the conclusions were appropriate for the data.  To non-scientists that are unfamiliar with the peer review process, there is an assumption that information is reliable and credible.  For the media, sensational conclusions result in sensational headlines. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Genome to phenome mapping in apple using historical data

Apple is one of the world’s most valuable fruit crops, but its large size and long juvenile phase prior to producing fruit make breeding new cultivars time consuming and expensive. Marker-assisted selection (MAS) can significantly decrease the time required for breeding new apple cultivars by allowing plants with a desired trait to be selected at the seed or seedling stage. However, MAS requires the discovery of genetic markers that predict traits of interest to breeders. In the July 2016 issue of The Plant Genome, researchers scanned the genomes of 689 apple varieties for genetic makers and evaluated the ability of these markers to predict variation in 36 traits. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ The next phase for agriculture technology

Agriculture technology is no longer a niche that no one’s heard about. Agriculture has confirmed its place as an industry of interest for the venture capital community after investment in agtech broke records for the past three years in a row, reaching $4.6 billion in 2015. For a long time, it wasn’t a target sector for venture capitalists or entrepreneurs. Only a handful of funds served the market, largely focused on biotech opportunities. And until recently, entrepreneurs were also too focused on what Steve Case calls the “Second Wave” of innovation, — web services, social media, and mobile technology — to look at agriculture, the least digitized industry in the world, according to McKinsey & Co. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Iowa State research shows perennials would reduce nutrient runoff to the Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone

A new study from an Iowa State University agronomist shows that an increase in perennial bioenergy grasses throughout the Corn Belt would lead to a significant reduction in nitrogen moving down the Mississippi River and into the Gulf of Mexico. The study used computer models to simulate how various levels of perennial grasses might affect the level of nutrient runoff from Midwestern farmland. The study’s findings largely corroborate those of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, a state plan designed to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus levels that contribute to the Gulf of Mexico’s hypoxic zone, said Andy VanLoocke, an assistant professor of agronomy and co-author of the study. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Commentary: The weather whisperer

Welcome to a whole lot of Nothing. Enjoy it while it lasts, because most experts think it will be over by the end of August. Historically, when the Tropical Pacific has a strong El Niño heating one-tenth of the Earth’s surface, the cooling process moves with whiplash speed. The ocean goes from one extreme to another and a La Niña forms a few months later. The weather it creates goes from one extreme to another. In between is “normal” weather. Notice, we are still in a period of time with severe weather events, like tornadoes and floods, but they are just not as predictable. Read the full article.

International Corner


(TOP) ~ French scientists oppose nominee to head agricultural research institute

French scientists are sharply criticizing the nomination of a policy specialist to become the new president of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA).  The critics say nominee Philippe Mauguin, a senior official in France’s agriculture ministry, knows little about research and was offered the job as a political favor ahead of next year’s general elections. Mauguin was competing for the post against outgoing INRA President François Houllier, a former researcher. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Clean water fund draws investors

The UK defence group BAE Systems and the Swedish national pension fund AP1 have invested in a new $300m water fund that will focus on industrial water projects in Europe and Asia. Demand for clean water from industrial users is increasing rapidly, particularly in emerging markets. Water treatment projects are usually considered too small for mainstream infrastructure funds, but a London-based boutique has launched a $300 million industrial water infrastructure fund that has attracted interest from six institutional investors. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ U.K. government enlists industry leaders to chart post-Brexit course for life sciences

While many scientists in the United Kingdom are still reeling from the country’s decision to leave the European Union, politicians and industry leaders are starting to think about what science in a post-Brexit United Kingdom might look like. At a press briefing here yesterday, the country's minister for life sciences, George Freeman, announced that he had convened a joint government-industry steering group to "set out key priorities for the U.K. life sciences sector" in the upcoming divorce negotiations with the European Union. The group will be co-chaired by GlaxoSmithKline CEO Andrew Witty and Pascal Soriot, CEO of AstraZeneca. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ India tomato shortage causes curry crisis and puts sellers under pressure

At Pimpalgaon Basant, a village in western India, there is not a single cloud in the sky. The last time it rained was days ago, and that was only for an hour. Without rain, the Pimpalgaon tomato market, said to be the biggest in Asia, is almost empty. Tomato prices across India have, on average, doubled since April, causing consternation across the country. A long drought, followed by an early monsoon has disturbed the harvest cycle, and scarcity has pushed up prices. Other vegetables and lentils are also more expensive this year. Read the full article.

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities


(TOP) ~ Plant Pest and Disease Management and Disaster Prevention Program

APHIS provides funding to strengthen the nation's infrastructure for pest detection and surveillance, identification, and threat mitigation, while working to safeguard the nursery production system. APHIS is inviting stakeholders to submit applications for fiscal year (FY) 2017 Plant Pest and Disease Management and Disaster Prevention Programs. There will be $62.5 million available in FY17 with at least $5 million going to the National Clean Plant Network. Deadline, August 19. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ National Academy of Sciences Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences

Beginning in 2017, the new $100,000 prize will recognize one annual recipient for an extraordinary contribution to agriculture or to the understanding of the biology of a species fundamentally important to agriculture or food production. Mid-career researchers at U.S. institutions may be nominated online. “Mid-career” is defined as up to 20 years since Ph.D. completion. The Prize may also be shared by one or more individuals for a collaborative accomplishment. Nominations due, October 3. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Partnerships for Innovation: Accelerating Innovation Research-Technology Translation

The NSF Partnerships for Innovation (PFI) program within the Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships (IIP) is an umbrella for two complementary subprograms, Accelerating Innovation Research (AIR) and Building Innovation Capacity (BIC). Overall, the PFI program offers opportunities to connect new knowledge to societal benefit through translational research efforts and/or partnerships that encourage, enhance and accelerate innovation and entrepreneurship. The subject of this solicitation is PFI: AIR-Technology Translation (PFI: AIR-TT). The PFI: AIR-TT solicitation serves as an early opportunity to move previously NSF-funded research results with promising commercial potential along the path toward commercialization. Projects are supported to demonstrate proof-of-concept, prototype, or scale-up while engaging faculty and students in entrepreneurial/innovative thinking. Letter of Intent deadline, September 8. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Agriculture and Natural Resources Science for Climate Variability and Change Challenge Area

This AFRI Challenge Area focuses on the priority to mitigate and adapt to climate variability and change. It supports activities that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase carbon sequestration in agricultural and forest production systems, and prepare the nation's agriculture and forests to adapt to variable climates. The long-term outcome for this program is to reduce the use of energy, nitrogen fertilizer, and water by ten percent and increase carbon sequestration by fifteen percent through resilient agriculture and forest production systems. In order to achieve this outcome, this program will support multi-function Integrated Research, Education, and/or Extension Projects and Food and Agricultural Science Enhancement (FASE) Grants. Deadline, November 17. Read the full announcement.

Sources: USDA; APHIS; NSF; FFAR; ScienceInsider; The Hill; Scientific American; Fortune; Washington Post; Forbes; Iowa State News; Cattle Network; Financial Times; The Guardian;

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.