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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.

19 April 2017

In This Issue:

Policy News

~ Tell us how you advocate for science
~ FY 2017 appropriations wrap-up in progress
~ Societies ask Congress to act on federal budget
~ House panel to challenge climate science
~ White House plans workforce reductions
~ Senate bill seeks to expand conservation acreage

Science News

~ Wetlands show potential to reduce conductivity of mine waters
~ Cattle-associated antibiotics disturb soil ecosystems
~ Polar glaciers may be home to previously undiscovered carbon cycle
~ Is soil the great new integrator?
~ OpEd: Make tomatoes great again
~ University of Arizona works to develop a weed-killing robot
~ Can Ancient Grains find their way in modern agriculture?
~ First evidence found of popular farm pesticides in drinking water
~ Food labels confuse consumers
~ Iowa poll examines use of conservation practices
~ To save Florida's famous oranges, scientists race to weaponize a virus
~ Farming becoming riskier under climate change

International Corner

~ A new agriculture app could usher in a 'golden' era for Myanmar farmers
~ Europe’s paradox: Why increased scientific mobility has not led to more international collaborations
~ Japan has a bunch of new tech ideas—including nine breeds of carrots
~ Review of Canadian science calls for better oversight, coordination—and more money
~ Emerging nations urge rich countries to honor climate finance pledges
~ Hunger will continue to plague Africa until we get serious on soils

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ Citrus Disease Research and Extension
~ Smith-Lever Special Needs Competitive Grants Program
~ Aquaculture Research
~ Stave-Level Conservation Innovative Grants
~ North Central Soybean Research Program
~ 1890 Institution Teaching, Research and Extension Capacity Building Grants
~ AFRI Foundational Program
~ Women and Minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Fields Program
~ Farmers Advocating For Organic
~ Sustainable Bioenergy and Bioproducts Challenge Area
~ Resilient Agroecosystems in a Changing Climate

Policy News


(TOP) ~ Tell us how you advocate for science

The ASA, CSSA and SSSA Presidents sent this message to Society members on engagement and advocacy on behalf of our sciences. “We encourage Tri-Society members to participate in the March for Science and Earth Day events, which coincide on April 22, in any way you feel appropriate. Promoting the use of good science in any decision-making process and policy activity has always been a goal of our Societies, which has become even more critical recently. We also encourage all members to look for other opportunities throughout the year to engage in promoting their science." Share your stories of science advocacy here.


(TOP) ~ FY 2017 appropriations wrap-up in progress

Before departing for a two-week recess, House and Senate leadership signaled progress – but no deal yet – in their effort to wrap up FY 2017 appropriations. At this time, only one spending bill, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill, has been signed into law, though the 11 other bills have all been approved by the appropriations committees in both chambers. Among the proposed funding changes is a $25 million increase for the AFRI competitive grants program approved by both the House and Senate. If Congress fails to complete the FY 2017 appropriations work and instead holds funding flat with a year-long continuing resolution (CR), any funding increases would not be realized. Once lawmakers return from recess, they will have only a few days to finalize FY 2017 funding before the current CR expires on April 28. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Societies ask Congress to act on federal budget

Hundreds of leading business, science and engineering, medical and health and higher education organizations, including ASA, CSSA and SSSA, sent a letter to House and Senate leaders urging them to quickly complete action on the fiscal 2017 spending bills and to reject the steep spending cuts the Trump Administration has proposed for scientific research programs and agencies for fiscal 2018.


(TOP) ~ House panel to challenge climate science

Republicans on the House Science Committee are had a hearing on March 27 to challenge mainstream climate science conclusions. The committee, chaired by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), has dubbed its hearing “Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications, and the Scientific Method.” The hearing comes as the GOP, which controls both chambers of Congress and the White House, works on multiple fronts to unravel former President Obama’s aggressive agenda on fighting climate change. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ White House plans workforce reductions

A memo issued by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) directs federal agencies to develop strategies to cut the workforce, while streamlining operations and finding efficiencies. The memo gives agencies an initial deadline of June 30, with a more detailed roadmap due in the fall. The reform strategies will ultimately be included in the FY 2019 budget request to be released in February 2018. This memo replaces the January 25th Presidential Memo which instituted a hiring freeze across all federal agencies. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Senate bill seeks to expand conservation acreage

Sen. John Thune is proposing changes to the farm bill conservation program that would increase the number of acres that can be enrolled while clearing the way for more of that land to be open to grazing and other activities. The bill calls for setting the cap for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) at 30 million acres — 25 percent more than the current cap — and distributing that among states based on 10-year enrollment averages. The legislation also allows for grazing on CRP land, which currently isn't allowed, and for the harvesting of vegetative cover. Thune's bill further includes provisions to encourage young farmers and ranchers to enroll in certain conservation programs and let farmers better manage lands enrolled in other easements. Read the full article.

Science News


(TOP) ~ Wetlands show potential to reduce conductivity of mine waters

Passive biological treatment systems, which include treatment wetlands, are an increasingly utilized, low-maintenance option to treat mine waters and reduce their widespread impacts on aquatic ecosystems.  However, despite prospective regulations to limit the electrical conductivity of mining-impacted waters, the ability of these passive treatment systems to reduce conductivity remains unclear. A review in the January-February 2017 issue of the Journal of Environmental Quality evaluates the potential of wetlands and other passive biological treatment systems to decrease the conductivity of mine waters and highlights research needs to improve the efficacy of this remediation solution. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Cattle-associated antibiotics disturb soil ecosystems

Manure from cattle administered antibiotics drastically changes the bacterial and fungal make-up of surrounding soil, leading to ecosystem dysfunction, according to a Virginia Tech research team. The team analyzed soil samples from 11 dairy farms in the United States and found that the amount of antibiotic resistant genes was 200 times greater in soil near manure piles compared with soil that wasn’t. Furthermore, microbes with greater antibiotic resistance showed higher stress levels. Soil microbial communities are important for sustaining ecosystem services, such as climate regulation, soil fertility, and food production. Perturbations, such as antibiotic exposure, can have marked effects on soil microbes and these services. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Polar glaciers may be home to previously undiscovered carbon cycle

Microbes in streams flowing on the surface of glaciers in the Arctic and Antarctic may represent a previously underestimated source of organic material and be part of an as yet undiscovered "dynamic local carbon cycle." Previously, scientists thought carbon released into polar streams by glaciers came from ancient organic material locked in the ice, or from newer sources, such as dust and soot blown in from fires and other sources around the world and deposited on the ice surface.  In the new study, researchers on a glacier in the Antarctic examined the ecosystem of a "supraglacial" stream -- one that flows over its surface. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Is soil the great new integrator?

Farmers, researchers and development agencies are all increasing their focus on soil. Globally, change in the way land is used and managed puts pressure on soils to do more. Farmers are growing more monoculture crops; rotating them less; and leaving behind pesticide residues, polluted waters from fertilizer run off, carbon loss, and depleted aquifers. For some farmers though, attention to soil has been a business decision, leading to increased production and yields, and has helped them withstand weather extremes. In a recent survey, insight from 2,020 farmers from across the United States reflected enthusiasm for cover crops to help improve soils—for the fourth year in a row—and found a yield boost in corn and soybeans following cover crops. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ OpEd: Make tomatoes great again

I applaud Senator Rand Paul’s interest in controlling government waste. Some politicians view taxpayer coffers as a bottomless checkbook. It is always refreshing to see critical evaluation of the dollars spent by the government. However, Senator Paul just placed his waste sticker on a gem of a project. He literally trashed a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded project that is rapidly resolving the genes associated with tomato metabolites as “one of the egregious examples of waste in the U.S. government.” In short, he took barely-surfacy-cursory glimpse at NSF’s carefully-refereed investment and unilaterally decided it was a frivolous waste of taxpayer funds. But is he a budget hero if the work he calls a waste actually is an amazing investment? Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ University of Arizona works to develop a weed-killing robot

University of Arizona is currently working to develop a camera-based spray system that will improve the accuracy of chemical applications to agricultural crops across the country. The goal of the project is to develop a high-tech spraying system that will apply precise amounts of herbicides to weeds without contaminating any of the crop plants, said Mazin Saber, a post-doctoral research associate specializing in agricultural engineering. One of the many benefits of the sprayer system is its ability to reduce the quantity of herbicides that come in contact with the environment. In order to accomplish this, the spray system utilizes a camera-based imaging system to identify and target weeds. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Can Ancient Grains find their way in modern agriculture?

In November of 2014, an unassuming story appeared in the pages of National Geographic magazine. Little more than a blurb, the modest article promised big things. According to three short paragraphs on a single, glossy page, ancient grains were about to arrive. “Make Way for Millet,” the headline crowed. The National Geographic article could be a sign that things were changing. Perhaps millet in America might one day be seen as it is in many other countries—a valuable and nutritious food for humans and a worthwhile crop to put in the ground. Or at least it could be viewed as a commodity with a higher calling than birdseed. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ First evidence found of popular farm pesticides in drinking water

Of the many pesticides that American farmers have embraced in their war on bugs, neonicotinoids are among the most popular. One of them, called imidacloprid, is among the world’s best-selling insecticides, boasting sales of over $1 billion a year. But with their widespread use comes a notorious reputation — that neonics, as they are nicknamed, are a bee killer. A 2016 study suggested a link between neonicotinoid use and local pollinator extinctions, though other agricultural researchers contested the pesticides' bad rap. As the bee debate raged, scientists studying the country’s waterways started to detect neonicotinoid pollutants. On Wednesday, a team of chemists and engineers at the USGS and University of Iowa reported that they found neonicotinoids in treated drinking water. It marks the first time that anyone has identified this class of pesticide in tap water, the researchers write in Environmental Science & Technology Letters. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Food labels confuse consumers

Consumers are confused about food labels. That’s the message from a survey of 3,337 urban consumers in 11 countries sponsored by the ENOUGH Movement, which is sharing the “Truth About Food,” a program to bring accurate, fact-based information to spark discussion and dispel misunderstanding. The study found people around the globe care about what goes in their food and on their tables, but even the most diligent consumer admitted they don’t really know the meaning of many food labels, the differences in farming methods like organic and conventional and the environmental impact. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Iowa poll examines use of conservation practices

Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy got its start in 2013, and efforts to track progress toward its goals are ongoing. The strategy recommends that farmers use a number of soil and water conservation best management practices to reduce nutrient loss into waterways. The 2016 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll asked farmers if they were using or considering use of many of those practices. The results released last week show that farmers are significantly increasing their use of practices geared toward achieving the goals of the strategy. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ To save Florida's famous oranges, scientists race to weaponize a virus

Florida’s citrus growers have been fighting against a deadly disease called citrus greening since 2005 when it first showed up in the state. To slow the spread of the sugar-sucking bacterium behind the scourge, which has infected 90% of Florida’s citrus groves, farmers are attempting to develop something like an arboreal vaccine, using a genetically modified virus to deliver bacteria-killing spinach proteins. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Farming becoming riskier under climate change

Scientists the world over are working to predict how climate change will affect our planet. It is an extremely complex puzzle with many moving parts, but a few patterns have been consistent, including the prediction that farming as we know it will become more difficult. Scientists infer the impact on agriculture based on predictions of rainfall, drought intensity, and weather volatility. Until now, however, the average farmer may not have been able to put predictions like these into practice. A new University of Illinois study puts climate change predictions in terms that farmers are used to: field working days. Read the full article.

International Corner


(TOP) ~ A new agriculture app could usher in a 'golden' era for Myanmar farmers

Impact Terra launched with the aim of providing digital solutions to rural farmers’ most common issues. With their Golden Paddy app, farmers can input information about where they’re located and what types of crops they grow. The service then customizes app content based on their circumstances, offering information on weather forecasts, crop market prices, best practices, financing opportunities, and other valuable data. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Europe’s paradox: Why increased scientific mobility has not led to more international collaborations

A new analysis suggests that lowering barriers to scientific migration can, paradoxically, decrease international collaborations. When top researchers in Eastern Europe started joining high-power institutions in the West, the research suggests, their colleagues and students back home ended up with fewer cross-border connections. The analysis is based on a natural experiment. In 2004, the European Union expanded by adding 10 member states, including Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. By tapping a government database on intra-European job moves, Alexander Petersen, a computational social scientist at the University of California, Merced, and his colleagues were able to infer the impact of the union's expansion on scientific mobility. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Japan has a bunch of new tech ideas—including nine breeds of carrots

Taro Takagi has helped develop nine breeds of carrots intended to feed millions in Asia—a prime example of how Japan now aims to use new technology to become an agricultural powerhouse. Prime Minister Abe wants to turn the food business, where Japan has a $70 billion annual trade deficit, into an export-growth sector along the lines of other science-heavy Japanese businesses such as high-speed rail and carbon-fiber materials. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Review of Canadian science calls for better oversight, coordination—and more money

To reinvigorate its science base, Canada needs to “reinvest” almost CAD$500 million in basic, investigator-led research over the next 4 years, according to a long-awaited review of the country’s science and innovation landscape. The review panel was commissioned last summer by Science Minister Kirsty Duncan to examine the state of fundamental science in Canada’s research institutions and to recommend improvements. The panel concludes that Canada was falling behind other countries on a variety of benchmarks, such as research output and international prizes. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Emerging nations urge rich countries to honor climate finance pledges

China, Brazil, India, and South Africa have urged industrialized countries to honor financial commitments made in Paris in 2015 to make funding available to a Green Climate Fund (GCF), which is designed to be used by poor and climate-vulnerable countries. But the agreement has been plunged into uncertainty after Trump proposed an end to payments to the GCF and signed an order to undo key climate change regulations. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Hunger will continue to plague Africa until we get serious on soils

Severe hunger in Africa could become a thing of the past even in arid regions. Long-term strategies to build resilience to the harsh climates that decimate crops and cattle do exist and need implementing with urgency. In Africa, these strategies, that can lead to major productivity gains in the face of climate change, start with soil. Nowhere in the world are soils as degraded as they are in Africa. It is estimated that around 65% of Africa’s soils are degraded, and despite being home to 10% of the world’s population, Africa accounts for just 3% of global fertilizer use. A concerted effort is needed to get fertilizer into the hands of Africa’s millions of smallholder farmers, and provide them with information on their proper use. Read the full article.

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities


(TOP) ~ Citrus Disease Research and Extension

The Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) Citrus Disease Research and Extension Program (CDRE) is authorized in the Agricultural Act of 2014 (H.R. 2642) to award grants to eligible entities to conduct research and extension activities, technical assistance and development activities to: (a) combat citrus diseases and pests, both domestic and invasive and including huanglongbing and the Asian citrus psyllid, which pose imminent harm to United States citrus production and threaten the future viability of the citrus industry; and (b) provide support for the dissemination and commercialization of relevant information, techniques, and technologies discovered pursuant to research and extension activities funded through SCRI/CDRE and other research and extension projects targeting problems caused by citrus production diseases and invasive pests. Preproposal deadline, May 12. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Smith-Lever Special Needs Competitive Grants Program

Within the states and territories, the Cooperative Extension System has repeatedly served as the trusted community organization that has helped to enable families, communities, and businesses to successfully prepare for, respond to and cope with disaster losses and critical incidents. Once a disaster has occurred, the local extension outreach includes: 1) Communicating practical science-based risk information, 2) Developing relevant educational experiences and programs, 3) Working with individuals and communities to open new communication channels, and 4) Mitigating losses and facilitating recovery. NIFA intends to fund Special Needs projects to implement applied scientific programs that serve public needs in preparation for, during and after local or regional emergency situations. Deadline, May 15. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Aquaculture Research

The purpose of the Aquaculture Research program is to support the development of an environmentally and economically sustainable aquaculture industry in the U.S. and generate new science-based information and innovation to address industry constraints. Over the long term, results of projects supported by this program may help improve the profitability of the U.S. aquaculture industry, reduce the U.S. trade deficit, increase domestic food security, provide markets for U.S.-produced grain products, increase domestic aquaculture business investment opportunities, and provide more jobs for rural and coastal America. The Aquaculture Research program will fund projects that directly address major constraints to the U.S. aquaculture industry and focus on one or more of the following program priorities: (1) genetics of commercial aquaculture species; (2) critical disease issues impacting aquaculture species; (3) design of environmentally and economically sustainable aquaculture production systems; and (4) economic research for increasing aquaculture profitability. Deadline, May 17. 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.

Maryland – Deadline, May 12

Vermont – Deadline, June 3


(TOP) ~ North Central Soybean Research Program

The North Central Soybean Research Program (NCSRP) combines soybean check-off funds from its 12 member states in order to sponsor basic and applied research to increase soybean profitability and enhance yield, while maintaining or improving soybean composition, through genetic improvement and biotic and abiotic stress mitigation for soybean maturity groups 0 – IV. The NCSRP is seeking collaborative multi-state soybean research project renewal requests and new proposals for funding. The NCSRP Board will fund research projects that address their goals to increase soybean grower productivity and profitability while improving environmental stewardship. The NCSRP will fund both applied and basic research, and the communication of research results, to provide short- and long-term practical benefit to Midwestern soybean producers. Deadline, May 22. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ 1890 Institution Teaching, Research and Extension Capacity Building Grants

The 1890 CBG is intended to strengthen teaching, research and extension programs in the food and agricultural sciences by building the institutional capacities of the 1890 Land-Grant Institutions, including Tuskegee University, West Virginia State University, and Central State University (per Section 7129 of Pub. L. 113-79). The CBG program supports projects that strengthen teaching programs in the food and agricultural sciences in the need areas of curriculum design and materials development, faculty development, and others. CBG supports projects that strengthen research and extension programs in need areas of studies and experimentation, extension program development support systems, and others. The CBG also support integrated project grants. The intent of this initiative is to increase and strengthen food and agriculture sciences at the 1890s through integration of education, research and extension. Applications submitted to CBG must address at least one of the following NIFA strategic goals: sustainable bioenergy; food security; childhood obesity prevention; or food safety. Deadline, May 31. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ AFRI Foundational Program

The AFRI Foundational Program supports grants in the six AFRI priority areas to continue building a foundation of knowledge critical for solving current and future societal challenges. The six priority areas are: Plant Health and Production and Plant Products; Animal Health and Production and Animal Products; Food Safety, Nutrition, and Health; Bioenergy, Natural Resources, and Environment; Agriculture Systems and Technology; and Agriculture Economics and Rural Communities. Single-function Research Projects, multi-function Integrated Projects, and Food and Agricultural Science Enhancement (FASE) Grants are expected to address one of the Program Area Priorities. Letter of Intent required and LOI deadline varies by Program Area. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Women and Minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Fields Program

This program supports research and extension projects that have robust collaborations to increase the participation of women and underrepresented minorities from rural areas in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields that are relevant to USDA priorities identified by the Secretary: (i) Promotion of a safe, sufficient, and nutritious food supply for all Americans and for people around the world; (ii) Sustainable agricultural policies that foster economic viability for small and mid-sized farms and rural businesses, protect natural resources, and promote value-added agriculture; (iii) national leadership in climate change mitigation and adaptation; (iv) Building a modern workplace with a modern workforce; and (v) Support for 21st century rural communities. Deadline, June 8. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Farmers Advocating For Organic

FAFO is a grant program funded entirely by annual, voluntary contributions from Organic Valley farmers. It’s the largest farmer-funded grant program in the U.S. and one of the few focused solely on organic. The fund provides a way for Organic Valley farmers to address the long-term needs of the organic marketplace and the future of organic agriculture by supporting the development of long-term solutions. Through combining resources, Organic Valley farmers are able to invest in projects that affect the livelihoods of organic farmers across the country. Grants are awarded to research, education and advocacy projects that advance FAFO’s mission: to protect and promote the organic industry and the livelihood of organic farmers. Letter of intent deadline, June 15. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Sustainable Bioenergy and Bioproducts Challenge Area

The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative - Sustainable Bioenergy and Bioproducts (SBEBP) Challenge Area is designed to achieve the long term goal of advancing bioeconomy by facilitiating development of regional systems for the sustainable production of bioenergy, industrial chemicals, and biobased products from renewable sources and building a strong workforce, increasing stakeholder engagement, and informing policy makers. In FY 2017, this Challenge Area is soliciting applications in two priority areas: 1) Lignin or nano-cellulosic co-products from biomass feedstocks; and 2) Biomass feedstock genetic development and evaluation. Applications are invited from eligible entities to submit single-function Research projects, multi-function integrated Research, Education and/or Extension projects and Food and Agricultural Science Enhancement (FASE) Grants. Deadline, June 28. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Resilient Agroecosystems in a Changing Climate

The AFRI Resilient Agroecosystems in a Changing Climate (RACC) Challenge Area focuses on sustainable increase in agricultural productivity and the availability and accessibility of safe and nutritious food. In FY 2017, the AFRI RACC Challenge Area will invest in one priority area, Climate, Land Use, and Land Management. Through these investments, NIFA will address the understanding of underlying processes, drivers and consequences of land use change, including biophysical and biogeochemical processes, climate feedbacks and environmental outcomes, and social, behavioral, economic and land use interaction. Applications for this Challenge Area will support multi-function Integrated Projects and Food and Agricultural Science Enhancement (FASE) Grants. Deadline, July 13. Read the full announcement.

Sources: USDA; NIFA; NSF; AAAS; ScienceInsider; The Hill; Federal News Radio; VT News; Environmental Health News; Huffington Post; Wildcat News; Washington Post; Cattel Network; Wallace’s Farmer; Wired; EurekaAlert; Forbes; Wall Street Journal; Reuters;

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.