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Science Policy Report

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Note: Due to a system upgrade, there will be no Science Policy Report on May 17. The next SPR will be posted on May 31.

Thank you, The Science Policy Office team.

08 March 2017

In This Issue:

Policy News

~ White House to release budget outline by mid-March
~ Trump to propose 10 percent spike in defense spending, major cuts to other agencies
~ Hear from Trumps’ top picks for Science Advisor
~ Trump signs two bills focused on women in STEM
~ Should scientists march? U.S. researchers still debating pros and cons
~ Neglecting research today threatens US innovation tomorrow
~ Trump aims to 'eliminate' Clean Water Rule
~ White House eyes plan to cut EPA staff by one-fifth, eliminating key programs

Science News

~ Streambed E. coli alters microbial water quality
~ Widely accepted vision for agriculture may be inaccurate, misleading
~ The sorghum plant that could tackle blindness
~ Changes in precipitation patterns influence natural selection at global scale
~ Natural plant defense could help fight cancer, Alzheimer’s
~ US approves 3 types of genetically engineered potatoes
~ World’s future food security “in jeopardy” due to multiple challenges, report warns
~ Improving spelt agronomy and quality
~ Nominate an Expert: Science Breakthroughs 2030

International Corner

~ Brazil races against time to save drought-hit city, dying crops
~ China pledges to cut pollution and boost food safety
~ Fears grow that climate conflicts could lead to war
~ Tech and talent win big in U.K. science budget

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ Nominations Open for ASA, CSSA, SSSA Awards and Scholarships
~ NASA Earth Science Applications: Food Security and Agriculture
~ Supplemental and Alternative Crops
~ Great Lakes Restoration Initiative
~ Methyl Bromide Transition Program
~ Southern SARE Graduate Student Grants
~ Stave-Level Conservation Innovative Grants
~ Crop Protection and Pest Management

Policy News


(TOP) ~ White House to release budget outline by mid-March

The Trump administration plans to release its fiscal 2018 budget outline by the second week of March, offering the first detailed look at priorities for the president’s first year. White House spokesman Sean Spicer confirmed that the administration plans to release its budget by "March 13-ish.” The plan, often called the “skinny budget,” is the first draft of Trump’s full budget proposal, which is expected later this spring. In broad strokes, it will likely lay out where Trump plans to boost spending, and specify which programs he will put on the chopping block. While the budget document does not become law, it will serve as a key framework for GOP leaders as they craft their own budget resolution this spring. The House and Senate must both agree to that resolution for GOP leaders to pursue budget reconciliation, which allows certain bills to pass Congress without the threat of filibuster. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Trump to propose 10 percent spike in defense spending, major cuts to other agencies

President Trump will propose a federal budget that would significantly increase defense-related spending by $54 billion while cutting other federal agencies by the same amount, an administration official said. The proposal represents a major increase in federal spending related to national security, while other priorities, especially foreign aid, would face massive reductions. According to the White House, the defense budget would increase by 10 percent. Trump also will request $30 billion in supplementary military spending for fiscal 2017, an administration official said. But without providing specifics, the administration said that most other discretionary spending programs would be cut to pay for it. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Hear from Trumps’ top picks for Science Advisor

While the Trump administration has yet to name its top Science Advisor, two names have been widely circulated as the front runners: William Happer a physicist from Princeton and David Gelernter, a Yale computer scientists. Both men were interviewed by The Scientist and share their views on climate change, federal funding for research and more. Read the interview with Happer here and the interview with Gelernter here.


(TOP) ~ Trump signs two bills focused on women in STEM

Last week, President Donald Trump faced a full day signing bills, two of which are aimed at promoting women. The bills plan to support business programs for women and to encourage them to pursue careers in math and science. The first bill, the Inspiring the Next Space Pioneers and Innovators and Explorers Act (INSPIRE), directs NASA to encourage women to pursue careers in science, mathematics and engineering. The second bill, Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act, permits the National Science Foundation to “encourage its existing entrepreneurial programs to recruit and support women to extend their focus beyond the laboratory and into the commercial world.” Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Should scientists march? U.S. researchers still debating pros and cons

Scientists around the United States are getting ready to do an unprecedented experiment: They plan to march en masse in Washington, D.C., and other cities on April 22, to take a stand for the importance of public policies based on science. Some researchers predict that this March for Science will release much needed energy and enthusiasm at a time when science is under threat; others worry it will damage science's reputation as an unbiased seeker of truth. The idea for the march emerged soon after the inauguration of President Trump, and the Women's March that took place the next day. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Neglecting research today threatens US innovation tomorrow

Looking back, it is sometimes easy to see how basic scientific research benefits our society and our economy. But, early on in the process of scientific discovery, it’s not always clear what research will result in life-changing innovations. For example, biologists discover a peculiar cellular pathway. Understanding that pathway points the way to developing drugs that can fight retroviruses, helping millions with HIV keep their infections from developing into full-blown AIDS. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Trump aims to 'eliminate' Clean Water Rule

The Trump administration is moving to roll back an environmental rule intended to define which small bodies of water are subject to federal authority under the Clean Water Act. President Trump signed documents directing the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to review the Obama administration's "Waters of the United States" rule. In doing so, Trump said he is "paving the way for the elimination" of the rule. Supporters say the regulation is needed to ensure safe drinking water. But a long list of opponents say it goes too far and poses a burden on them. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ White House eyes plan to cut EPA staff by one-fifth, eliminating key programs

The White House has proposed deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget that would reduce the agency’s staff by one-fifth in the first year and eliminate dozens of programs. While administration officials had already indicated that they intended to increase defense spending at the expense of other discretionary funding, the plan spells out exactly how this new approach will affect long-standing federal programs that have a direct impact on Americans’ everyday lives. The funding level proposed could have a significant impact on the agency. Its annual budget would drop from $8.2 billion a year to $6.1 billion. And because much of that funding already goes to states and localities in the form of grants, such cuts could have an even greater effect on the EPA’s core functions. Read the full article.

Science News


(TOP) ~ Streambed E. coli alters microbial water quality

Most of the microbial quality regulations and assessments for fresh waters use Escherichia coli as an indicator of fecal contamination that may be harmful to human health. In the January-February 2017 issue of the Journal of Environmental Quality, researchers report results of a study undertaken to see if streambeds may contribute E. coli to water during the low-flow periods. Application of the SWAT model to monitoring data from a Pennsylvania stream showed that E. coli concentrations in water during low-flow periods could not be satisfactorily estimated when E. coli influx to water was attributed only to the E. coli. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Widely accepted vision for agriculture may be inaccurate, misleading

"Food production must double by 2050 to feed the world's growing population." This truism has been repeated so often in recent years that it has become widely accepted among academics, policymakers and farmers, but now researchers are challenging this assertion and suggesting a new vision for the future of agriculture. Research published in Bioscience suggests that production likely will need to increase between 25 percent and 70 percent to meet 2050 food demand. The assertion that we need to double global crop and animal production by 2050 is not supported by the data. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ The sorghum plant that could tackle blindness

Up to half a million children around the world are going blind every year due to a lack of Vitamin A in their diets. According to the World Health Organization, Vitamin A deficiency, — which afflicts 250 million children worldwide — is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children and increases the risk of disease and death from severe infections. It is a public health problem in more than half the world’s nations, especially in Africa and Southeast Asia, affecting young children and pregnant women in low-income countries the hardest. In Kenya, scientists are tackling this problem by developing biofortified sorghum, a staple crop that has been genetically modified to contain higher levels of Vitamin A. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Changes in precipitation patterns influence natural selection at global scale

What matters more for the evolution of plants and animals, precipitation or temperature? Scientists have found a surprising answer: rain and snow may play a more important role than how hot or cold it is. Rainfall and snowfall patterns are changing with climate variation, which likely plays a key role in shaping natural selection, according to results published today by an international team of researchers. Twenty scientists from the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia contributed to the study. Their results were published in the journal Science. The team assembled a database of 168 published studies that measured natural selection over certain time periods for plant and animal populations worldwide. The results from the data set the scientists examined showed that between 20 and 40 percent of variation in selection within studies could be attributed to variability in local precipitation. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Natural plant defense could help fight cancer, Alzheimer’s

A natural defense that helps plants ward off insect predators could lead to better crops and new treatments for cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, as discovered by NIFA-supported researchers at Washington State University (WSU). As the building blocks of our bodies, proteins play important roles in plant and animal health. Special enzymes called proteases destroy proteins and must be carefully controlled to avoid problems like disease and early aging. Researchers found that when a seedling emerges from soil, inhibitors shut down and protease levels rise. When an insect tries to eat the plant, the protease attacks its digestive enzymes, causing the insect to seek a different meal. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ US approves 3 types of genetically engineered potatoes

Three types of potatoes genetically engineered to resist the pathogen that caused the Irish potato famine are safe for the environment and safe to eat, federal officials announced. The approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration late last week gives Idaho-based J.R. Simplot Co. permission to plant the potatoes this spring and sell them in the fall. The company said the potatoes contain only potato genes and that the resistance to late blight, the disease that caused the Irish potato famine, comes from an Argentine variety of potato that naturally produced a defense. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ World’s future food security “in jeopardy” due to multiple challenges, report warns

Mankind's future ability to feed itself is in jeopardy due to intensifying pressures on natural resources, mounting inequality, and the fallout from a changing climate, warns a new FAO report. Though very real and significant progress in reducing global hunger has been achieved over the past 30 years, "expanding food production and economic growth have often come at a heavy cost to the natural environment," says The Future of Food and Agriculture: Trends and Challenges. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Improving spelt agronomy and quality

Spelt is an old hulled wheat currently receiving renewed interest of consumers, bakers, millers, and farmers. Research is necessary to facilitate a production chain with a satisfactory reward for producers and a final product of high quality. In the March-April issue of Crop Science, researchers report on a study with 30 spelt varieties assessing the genetic variability and heritability of a large number of agronomic and quality traits together with the flavor and odor of breads. Knowledge about correlations among these traits allow important conclusions for spelt breeding targeting improved yield and quality. The team concluded that a good estimation for protein quality is the sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDSS) method. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Nominate an Expert: Science Breakthroughs 2030

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine is seeking nominations for individuals across various disciplines to be part of an activity that will develop a compelling strategy for food and agricultural research for the next decade and beyond. Nominations are sought for transformational thinkers across the scientific enterprise to be considered for the executive committee. In addressing its statement of task, the executive committee will offer a strategic and ambitious view of the opportunities for fundamental and applied interdisciplinary research that is both grounded by a deep scientific understanding of food and agricultural challenges and elevated by the breakthrough potential of insights and tools from newly converging disciplines in the food and agriculture setting. If implemented, the strategy would stimulate transformational change in the food and agricultural system by catalyzing new research directions and partnerships, attracting new research talent, stimulating entrepreneurial activities, increasing funding opportunities, and ultimately opening new paths to a safe, healthful, and sustainable supply of food and fiber. Learn more here.

International Corner


(TOP) ~ Brazil races against time to save drought-hit city, dying crops

The shrunken carcasses of cows lie in scorched fields outside the city of Campina Grande in northeast Brazil, and hungry goats search for food on the cracked-earth floor of the Boqueirao reservoir that serves the desperate town.  After five years of drought, farmer Edivaldo Brito says he cannot remember when the Boqueirão reservoir was last full. But he has never seen it this empty. After two years of rationing, residents complain that water from the reservoir is dirty, smelly and undrinkable. The reservoir is down to 4 percent of capacity and rainfall is expected to be sparse this year. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ China pledges to cut pollution and boost food safety

China’s central government is laying plans to curb pollution, increase food and drug safety, and boost scientific research—though supporting details are scarce. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang outlined these and other major goals during the opening session of the National People’s Congress on Sunday. The congress discussions are not likely to result in new legislation specific to science but speeches by top leaders set the tone for policy over the coming year. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Fears grow that climate conflicts could lead to war

Among the 21st-century threats posed by climate change - rising seas, melting permafrost and superstorms - European leaders are warning of a last-century risk they know all too well: War. Focusing too narrowly on the environmental consequences of global warming underestimates the military threats, top European and United Nations officials said at a global security conference in Munich this weekend. Their warnings follow the conclusions of defense and intelligence agencies that climate change could trigger resource and border conflicts. Climate change is a threat multiplier. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Tech and talent win big in U.K. science budget

A major boost to government R&D spending in the United Kingdom will focus on technology and supporting scientific talent. In today’s announcement of the U.K. 2017–18 budget, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond revealed details of the new £4.7 billion over 4 years that the government pledged last November. The money is part of an Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund for research partnerships with business, designed to develop the U.K. economy. The new funding round consists of £270 million largely for research and development on electric vehicle batteries; drug manufacturing technology; and artificial intelligence and robots for work in space, offshore energy, nuclear power plants, and mining. Read the full article.

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities


(TOP) ~ Nominations Open for ASA, CSSA, SSSA Awards and Scholarships

Nominate deserving colleagues for awards, including Fellow, in research, education, industry, consulting, and extension. Initiate nominations by March 29 with reference letters and final submission by April 5. Students: Apply for ASA, CSSA, and SSSA scholarships, including Greenfield Scholars and Golden Opportunity Scholars, by April 5 with reference letters and final submission by April 12. Awards can be found here:

ASA Awards & Fellow

CSSA Awards & Fellow

SSSA Awards & Fellow


(TOP) ~ NASA Earth Science Applications: Food Security and Agriculture

The NASA Earth Science Division (ESD) solicits proposals to develop, implement, and manage a program of activities for Earth science applications for food security and agriculture. The primary objective of this call is to to advance sustained uses of Earth observations by international and domestic organizations to increase food security and improve agricultural practices for economic and social benefits. There are two major elements: International Food Security and Domestic Agriculture. This call includes applications development, user characterization and engagement, innovative communications work, and socioeconomic impact analyses as part of the activities. The Applied Sciences Program strongly encourages that proposals to this call involve a multisectoral, transdisciplinary team of organizations as a consortium to achieve the objectives. Deadline, April 7. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Supplemental and Alternative Crops

The Supplemental and Alternative Crops Competitive (SACC) Grants Program will support the development of canola as a viable supplemental and alternative crop in the United States. The goal of the SACC program is to significantly increase crop production and/or acreage by developing and testing of superior germplasm, improving methods of planting, cultivation, and harvesting, and transferring new knowledge to producers (via Extension) as soon as practicable. Extension, education, and communication activities related to the research areas above must be addressed in the proposal. Deadline, April 11. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

The U.S. Forest Service will support projects in the Great Lakes basin that implement the following strategic, priority actions: 1) restore tree canopy lost to infestation by emerald ash borer, 2) create or improve green infrastructure through the planting of trees and other vegetation as part of a storm water management strategy and 3) restore the function of coastal wetlands areas through planting of native trees and diverse vegetation. Successful projects will address invasive species, nonpoint source pollution impacts on nearshore health, and coastal habitat restoration activities to improve water quality. Deadline, April 13. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Methyl Bromide Transition Program

The methyl bromide transition program 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, April 25. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Southern SARE Graduate Student Grants

The Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program has released the 2017 Call for Proposals for Graduate Student Grants. Research projects that address issues of sustainable agriculture of current and potential importance to the Southern region are eligible for submission. Graduate Student Grants are one of the few sustainable agriculture research funding opportunities open to PhD and Master’s students at accredited institutions in the Southern region. Deadline, May 5. 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.

Pennsylvania – Deadline, April 3

Idaho – Deadline, April 14

New Mexico – Deadline, April 21

Caribbean – Deadline, April 28

Oregon – Deadline, April 28

Virginia – Deadline, May 5

South Dakota – Deadline, May 15

New Hampshire – Deadline, June 16


(TOP) ~ Crop Protection and Pest Management

The purpose of the Crop Protection and Pest Management program is to address high priority issues related to pests and their management using IPM approaches at the state, regional and national levels. The CPPM program supports projects that will ensure food security and respond effectively to other major societal pest management challenges with comprehensive IPM approaches that are economically viable, ecologically prudent, and safe for human health. The CPPM program addresses IPM challenges for emerging issues and existing priority pest concerns that can be addressed more effectively with new and emerging technologies. The outcomes of the CPPM program are effective, affordable, and environmentally sound IPM practices and strategies needed to maintain agricultural productivity and healthy communities. Deadline, May 9. Read the full announcement.

Sources: USDA; NSF; USFS; NASA; AAAS; ScienceInsider; Politico; The Scientist; Washington Post; Daily Caller; NPR; The Hill; PSU News; Devex; WSU News; Associated Press; FOA; Reuters; Bloomberg;

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.