Science Policy Report

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15 June 2016

In This Issue:

Policy News

~ Appropriations process inches forward
~ OSTP announces national microbiome initiative
~ State officials investigated over their inquiry into Exxon Mobil’s climate change research
~ Senate Committee passes small business research reauthorization
~ New chair of science board helps make NSF’s case to U.S. Congress
~ Celebrity chefs hope to press Congress on food waste

Science News

~ Effective sampling for digital soil mapping
~ SoAR Foundation and university collaborators release ag research breakthroughs report
~ How the world’s most popular foods have traveled all over the planet
~ Global Soil Partnership endorses guidelines on sustainable soil management
~ USDA partners with the Department of Defense to fight climate change
~ Study details economic benefits of GM crops
~ 'Thirsty Land' highlights ag's resilience in wake of water shortage
~ Food and Agriculture CEOs: Industry Making Strides on Sustainability
~ Chemical inputs can be reduced without significantly reducing yields
~ Report: bioenergy can support food security
~ Land O'Lakes, Minnesota partner on water quality initiative
~ Field to Market releases report on opportunities to advance soil health

International Corner

~ EU fails to get sufficient majority in vote to extend glyphosate use
~ India moves toward U.S. on climate change
~ China unveils plan to cleanse contaminated soil
~ With Brazil in political crisis, science and the environment are on the chopping block
~ Air and water problems are worsening on a global scale, U.N. says

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ Northeast SARE Professional Development and Research and Education Grants
~ Announcement for Input from National-State Commodity Boards
~ Stave-Level Conservation Innovative Grants
~ Innovations in Food and Agricultural Science and Technology (I-FAST) Prize Competition
~ Childhood Obesity Prevention Challenge Area
~ Research Experiences for Undergraduates

Policy News

(TOP) ~ Appropriations process inches forward

When it comes to funding the government, the House and Senate have become a study in contrasts. Budget rules prevented floor action through May 15 because the House was unwilling or unable to pass a budget resolution setting a topline limit on discretionary spending. Finally past this date, the House began moving their first appropriations bills, only to see the usually popular Energy-Water spending bill go down in flames on the floor due to controversial amendments that were offered with the bill. To address this and keep the appropriations process afloat, the House is now operating under a structured rule that prevents such riders from coming to a vote. While the Senate has been moving forward with their bills, the attack Sunday at an Orlando gay nightclub that killed 49 people and injured dozens more, is likely to cause considerable debate in both chambers.

(TOP) ~ OSTP announces national microbiome initiative

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) announced a collaboration between federal agencies and the private sector to take a more cooperative approach to studying the microbiome of a range of ecosystems. The National Microbiome Initiative will focus on three specific goals: support interdisciplinary basic research; develop platform technologies to share information and knowledge; and expand participation through citizen science and public engagement. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ State officials investigated over their inquiry into Exxon Mobil’s climate change research

Since last November, a growing number of state attorneys general have been pointing their fingers at Exxon Mobil, investigating whether the energy company’s research about climate change conflicted directly with its public statements on the issue. But now the accusers are being accused, with a battle being waged over principles of free speech, government overreach and collaboration with activist organizations. Representative Lamar Smith, Republican of Texas, sent a letter on Wednesday to the New York attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, demanding all communications since 2012 between his office and climate change activist organizations. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Senate Committee passes small business research reauthorization

The Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee passed a bipartisan reauthorization of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, which is funded through a percentage of a federal agencies' extramural research and development budgets.  Participating agencies are those that spend more than $100 million on extramural research, and the reauthorization bill would make the program permanent rather than require reauthorization every 5-6 years.  In addition, it would increase the percentage devoted to the programs from the current 3 percent up to 6 percent for non-defense agencies and 5 percent for the Department of Defense (DoD) by 2028, and institute a suite of reforms. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ New chair of science board helps make NSF’s case to U.S. Congress

The new chair of the board that oversees the National Science Foundation (NSF) plans to continue the board’s stepped-up efforts to educate Congress on how NSF does its business. This month Maria Zuber, a planetary geophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, took over from Dan Arvizu as chair of the National Science Board. The presidentially appointed body has traditionally kept a low profile. But in 2014 Arvizu asked Zuber to design a bigger role for the board in response to criticism from Republican legislators that NSF was funding frivolous research. The board’s response has been face-to-face meetings with individual legislators that take place after the end of the board’s regular 2-day sessions at NSF headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Celebrity chefs hope to press Congress on food waste

Celebrities often land on Capitol Hill to testify about world atrocities, advocate medical research or defend the rights of musicians. Now, the chefs are coming to press for new food policies. The House Agriculture Committee, typically consumed with things like farm subsidies and food stamps, will hold its first full hearing concerning the roughly 70 billion pounds of food wasted annually in the United States. Hunger groups are increasingly looking at ways to rescue excess food from its inevitable path to garbage piles, get it into low-income communities and come up with incentives to prevent waste throughout the system. Sometimes, for instance, carrots that are misshapen and not great for markets or restaurants simply go to waste. Read the full article.

Science News

(TOP) ~ Effective sampling for digital soil mapping

Field soil samples are key inputs to digital soil mapping for provision of soil spatial information. Collecting field soil samples is not only labor intensive, but also costly. It is important to incorporate the vast amount of geospatial data currently available to increase the efficiency of soil sampling, but existing sampling methods can hardly achieve that. In a recent article in the Soil Science Society of America Journal, researchers developed a new sampling method that integrates the geospatial data derived from GIS and remote-sensing techniques to improve the efficiency of field sampling. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ SoAR Foundation and university collaborators release ag research breakthroughs report

Thirteen prominent research institutions in the United States joined the Supporters of Agricultural Research (SoAR) Foundation in calling for a surge in federal support of food and agricultural science. Retaking the Field, the report released by this coalition, highlights recent scientific innovations and illustrates how US agricultural production is losing ground to China and other global competitors. The report looks at the importance of agriculture and its related industries to the US economy. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), this sector was responsible for nearly 1 in 10 jobs in 2014 and contributed $835 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ How the world’s most popular foods have traveled all over the planet

From the grains in your breakfast cereal to the grapes in your wine, there’s a strong chance that the food you eat on a daily basis has its ancient origins thousands of miles away. A major new study, the collaborative effort of more than a dozen researchers around the world, suggests that countries rely on crops that originally came from other parts of the globe — and the interconnections among global food systems are only continuing to grow.  It’s well known that many foods popular in certain countries didn’t actually originate there but were in fact carried over by travelers or traders at some point. But what’s been unclear up until this point is exactly how much moving around all of the world’s crops have done over the centuries and how heavily different countries now rely on foods that didn’t actually originate within their borders. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Global Soil Partnership endorses guidelines on sustainable soil management

The Global Soil Partnership (GSP) endorsed a set of voluntary guidelines for sustainable soil management at its plenary conference at FAO this week, marking a step towards coordinated action to assure that the earth under our feet - a keystone of global food security - remains fertile. The GSP has been set up as a coalition tasked with promoting efforts to improve the parlous state of the world's soils, a third of which are defined as degraded. For prescriptions for improving soil health to succeed, much diagnostic work must be done, according to the GSP. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ USDA partners with the Department of Defense to fight climate change

The Department of Agriculture and Department of Defense have an extensive relationship coordinating land management activities, and are now working together to cope with the pressures of climate change.  The USDA Forest Service Climate Change Resource Center (CCRC) and the USDA Northern Forests Climate Hub (NFCH) are partnering with the Department of Defense (DoD) to present information on climate change and ecosystem response during environmental and natural resource training courses to better enable DoD mission success through practical approaches to climate adaptation. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Study details economic benefits of GM crops

A study by U.K.-based PG Economics finds that farmers around the world who use genetically modified (GM) seeds reaped economic benefits averaging more than $100 per hectare (about 2.5 acres) in 2014 while at the same time improving the environmental sustainability of their operations. “Two-thirds of these benefits derive from higher yields and extra production, with farmers in developing countries seeing the highest gains,” said Graham Brookes, director of PG Economics and co-author of the report. “The environment is also benefiting as farmers increasingly adopt conservation tillage practices, build their weed management practices around more benign herbicides and replace insecticide use with insect resistant GM crops.” Worldwide economic benefits of GM crops have reached $150 billion, according to the report. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ 'Thirsty Land' highlights ag's resilience in wake of water shortage

The Daugherty Water for Food Institute in Lincoln kicked off in April with a premiere of Conrad Weaver's latest documentary, Thirsty Land. The film, from the same studio and director who brought us Great American Wheat Harvest, highlights a challenge that's been all too real for western agriculture in recent years: drought and the challenges that come with a lack of water. The Robert B. Daugherty Water For Food Institute along with the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, both at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln partnered with Weaver to produce the film, which addresses how a lack of water impacts growers and urban residents west of the 100th meridian in states like California, Washington, Nevada, Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Food and Agriculture CEOs: Industry Making Strides on Sustainability

Food and agriculture companies are making important strides on improving sustainable production, but should continue to step up their commitments, according to a new call to action from the Bipartisan Policy Center’s CEO Council on Sustainability and Innovation, a group of leading industry executives. Leaders of DuPont, Elanco, Hormel Foods, Kellogg Company, and Land O’ Lakes, Inc., will release Food for Thought: A Call to Action on the Future of Sustainable Agriculture. The call comes as summer approaches and Americans prepare to gather around picnic tables with friends and family. Food is an important part of an American summer—and consumers want to know how and where their food is produced, and who produced it. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Chemical inputs can be reduced without significantly reducing yields

Low-input and organic systems have been proposed to reduce the negative environmental impacts of agriculture. However, organic systems have been shown to induce 19 to 25% yield loss compared with conventional systems while no such comparison has yet been performed for low-input systems. In an article in the May–June 2016 issue of Agronomy Journal, researchers report a meta-analysis comparing low-input to conventional and organic systems, based on European and North-American long-term experiments including two major crops (maize and soft winter wheat). They compared yields, mineral nitrogen, and pesticide use of both types of system. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Report: bioenergy can support food security

Energy and food security can be simultaneously improved through well-designed biofuel and bioenergy development programs, according to a report released today by a team of experts from 10 institutions. The report confronts some of the public’s misconceptions about the food security impacts of biofuels, and offers clarity on the source of these perceptions. One of the key goals of the report, “Reconciling Food Security and Bioenergy: Priorities for Action,” is to point out that food and energy security are complementary goals, as embodied in the United Nations-led 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and as also reflected in the Paris Agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The authors outline a number of ways in which development-focused efforts to promote food security and secure clean and reliable sources of energy for local populations can align in a synergistic way. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Land O'Lakes, Minnesota partner on water quality initiative

The state of Minnesota and Land O'Lakes announced a partnership to improve water quality in farm country, leveraging the farmer-owned cooperative's retail network to help expand a state program that encourages farmers to voluntarily implement conservation practices. Land O'Lakes will promote the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program through its seed and crop protection business, WinField US, using its remote sensing technology to map the topography of fields to reduce erosion and better manage runoff. The network has more than 300 agricultural retailers in Minnesota that reach 25,000 farms. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Field to Market releases report on opportunities to advance soil health

Over the past decade, Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture has developed a set of sustainability metrics that focus on environmental outcomes of agricultural management practices, specific to commodity crop production systems in the United States. Responding to a charge from membership to conduct an assessment on how the Alliance can work to further overall maintenance of and improvement to soil health, we have prepared a new report as a resource for Field to Market members. Exploring Opportunities to Advance Soil Health assesses the current situation of the science of soil health, efforts of the conservation community, related research and the relationship to Field to Market’s ongoing efforts. Read the full article.

International Corner

(TOP) ~ EU fails to get sufficient majority in vote to extend glyphosate use

The future of weedkiller glyphosate, the active ingredient of Monsanto Co.’s Roundup, in the European Union market remains unclear, after a proposal to temporarily extend its sales authorization failed to garner the necessary majority on Monday. Glyphosate’s EU sales license expires at the end of the month. Reauthorizing the widely used weedkiller has run into opposition from several governments amid conflicting scientific assessments on whether it causes cancer. The unclear outcome of Monday’s vote—in which the vast majority of the EU’s 28 member states backed an extension but failed to meet the necessary population threshold—leaves the final decision in the hands of the European Commission. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ India moves toward U.S. on climate change

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi committed to attempting to ratify the Paris climate change agreement by the end of this year following a meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House in late May. The announcement was made in a statement after the meeting, where climate change was the main focus. India "has begun its processes to work toward this shared objective" relating to the Paris agreement, the statement read. While India has not formally ratified it, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest welcomed the news shortly after the meeting. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ China unveils plan to cleanse contaminated soil

China has released an ambitious plan to make 90 per cent of its polluted agricultural land “safely usable” within four years, as it addresses a longtime problem that affects food security and public health. A survey published in 2014 estimated that 20 per cent of China’s arable land was contaminated by decades of unregulated metal smelting, mining and fertilizer manufacturing. The clean-up bill could reach $1tn, by some estimates. While Beijing has promised to tackle soil pollution for some time, it originally planned to do so after addressing the more visible problems of air and water pollution. However, experts have realized that contamination leeching into the soil from abandoned industrial sites will continue to undermine water quality unless tackled at the same time. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ With Brazil in political crisis, science and the environment are on the chopping block

In the midst of Brazil’s political turmoil, pro-development forces are moving ahead on a constitutional amendment that could speed approval for dams, highways, mines, and other megaprojects. The measure has alarmed scientists, environmentalists, and indigenous rights advocates, who fear it would gut the country’s environmental licensing process. It is just one of a series of actions that has the scientific community on edge after Dilma Rousseff was removed as president on 12 May. Rousseff faces an impeachment trial for illegally borrowing money from state banks to cover budget deficits. The new interim government, led by former Vice President Michel Temer, has set out to trim government spending and boost business. Days after taking power, it merged the science ministry with the communications ministry, leaving researchers fearing for what’s left of their already diminished budgets. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Air and water problems are worsening on a global scale, U.N. says

In a sweeping synthesis of global data, the United Nations Environment Programme has intensively catalogued environmental assaults across the six different major regions of the globe. And it finds that, overall, damage to the planet is happening more rapidly than before, through slights ranging from air pollution, to the proliferation of human and toxic waste, to water scarcity and climate change. The root causes basically boil down to two major systemic occurrences with multiple ramifying consequences: a changing climate and an intense trend toward greater urbanization. Read the full article.

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

(TOP) ~ Northeast SARE Professional Development and Research and Education Grants

Northeast SARE have two grant announcements available. The Professional Development program funds outcome-based projects that train Cooperative Extension educators and other agricultural service providers in sustainable techniques and concepts. Projects must be directed toward increasing the skill and understanding of these service providers and consistent with SARE's larger goal of broad farmer adoption of sustainable practices. Research and Education projects must explore and improve on sustainable practices in agriculture or seek wider adoption or mainstreaming of sustainable practices. Practices to be adopted may be related to production, marketing, finances, or social/quality of life issues. Deadline, June 23 for both. Read the full Professional Development announcement here and the Research and Education announcement here.

(TOP) ~ Announcement for Input from National-State Commodity Boards

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is reaching out to eligible national and state commodity boards, and marketing orders to propose topics for research under its FY2017 Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) competitive grants program. FY17 Federal Register Notice invites topic submissions from eligible commodity boards and marketing orders, outlines the process NIFA will use to evaluate the appropriateness of these topics for inclusion in AFRI Request for Applications, and describes the commitment commodity boards will be required to make in order for NIFA to jointly fund AFRI applications competitively selected for award within a topic area submitted by the commodity boards. Comments due, July 18. Read the full announcement.

(TOP) ~ Stave-Level Conservation Innovative Grants

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), an agency under the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), is announcing availability of Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) to stimulate the development and adoption of innovative conservation approaches and technologies. Proposals will be accepted from the following several states. See the links for full announcement details and deadlines.

New York – Deadline July 1

Arkansas – Deadline July 11

(TOP) ~ Innovations in Food and Agricultural Science and Technology (I-FAST) Prize Competition

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is announcing the I-FAST prize competition (the “I-FAST Competition” or the “Competition”) to develop and implement the Innovations in Food and Agricultural Science and Technology (I-FAST) Pilot Program. USDA NIFA will partner with the National Science Foundation (NSF) Innovation Corps (I-Corps) to provide entrepreneurship training to USDA NIFA grantees under this I-FAST pilot program. The goals are to identify valuable product opportunities that can emerge from NIFA supported academic research. Selected USDA NIFA I-FAST project teams will have the opportunity to concurrently participate in the educational programs with NSF I-Corps awardees. Over a period of six months the USDA NIFA supported teams in the I-FAST program will learn what it will take to achieve an economic impact with their particular innovation. The final goal of the I-FAST Competition is to facilitate technology transfer of innovations that can make an impact in the marketplace and the global economy. Deadline, July 22. Read the full announcement.

(TOP) ~ Childhood Obesity Prevention Challenge Area

This Challenge Area focuses on the societal challenge to end obesity among children, the number one nutrition-related problem in the US. Food is an integral part of the process that leads to obesity and USDA has a unique responsibility for the food system in the United States. This program is designed to achieve the long-term outcome of reducing the prevalence of overweight and obesity among children and adolescents 2-19 years. The AFRI Childhood Obesity Prevention program supports multi-function Integrated Research, Education, and/or Extension Projects and Food and Agricultural Science Enhancement (FASE) Grants. Deadline, August 4. Read the full announcement.

(TOP) ~ Research Experiences for Undergraduates

The Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program supports active research participation by undergraduate students in any of the areas of research funded by the National Science Foundation. REU projects involve students in meaningful ways in ongoing research programs or in research projects specifically designed for the REU program. This solicitation features two mechanisms for support of student research: (1) REU Sites are based on independent proposals to initiate and conduct projects that engage a number of students in research. REU Sites may be based in a single discipline or academic department or may offer interdisciplinary or multi-department research opportunities with a coherent intellectual theme. Proposals with an international dimension are welcome. (2) REU Supplements may be included as a component of proposals for new or renewal NSF grants or cooperative agreements or may be requested for ongoing NSF-funded research projects. Undergraduate student participants in either REU Sites or REU Supplements must be U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, or permanent residents of the United States. Students do not apply to NSF to participate in REU activities. Students apply directly to REU Sites or to NSF-funded investigators who receive REU Supplements. Deadline, August 24. Read the full announcement.

Sources: USDA; NSF; FAO; SoAR Foundation; ScienceInsider; Washington Post; New York Times; Agri-Pulse; Farm Progress; Bipartisan Policy Center; IFPRI; Star Tribune; Field To Market; Wall Street Journal; Financial Times; CNN;

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.