Science Policy Report

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01 July 2015

In This Issue:

Policy News

~ Societies release new ‘Science Frontiers’ document
~ Odds of another government shutdown?
~ USDA appropriations on the move
~ U.S. must make agricultural research a priority
~ Societies sign on to ‘Innovation: An American Imperative’
~ AGree report calls for food and agriculture research reform
~ Pompeo releases reworked draft of GMO labeling bill
~ Waters of the US rule takes effect Aug. 28

Science News

~ Vadose Zone Journal highlights the growing science of growing media
~ Revealing the ocean's hidden fertilizer
~ Peak fragility: conserving mountain soils an urgent matter
~ GMO dilemma: swaying a wary public
~ What climate change implies for global food security and trade
~ World’s aquifers losing replenishment race, researchers say
~ Microbe mobilizes 'iron shield' to block arsenic uptake in rice
~ WHO agency classifies 2,4-D as 'possibly carcinogenic to humans'

International Corner

~ Israel bets on recycled water to meet its growing thirst
~ Dutch court orders government to do more to fight climate change
~ E.U. science chief wants to work ERC magic on innovation

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ Biofuel Infrastructure Partnership
~ New Technologies for Ag Extension
~ Faculty Early Career Development Program
~ Solicitation of Members to the National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics Advisory Board
~ Food and Agricultural Sciences National Needs Graduate and Postgraduate Fellowship
~ Advances in Biological Informatics
~ Transportation Energy Resources from Renewable Agriculture

Policy News

(TOP) ~ Societies release new ‘Science Frontiers’ document

Agronomy, Crop and Soil Science Societies are united in solving the Grand Challenge: sustainably improve the human condition for a growing global population in a changing environment.  Each society offers their own unique science-based solutions to solving this Grand Challenge.  The Science Frontiers identify the most promising opportunities in the next decade whose investigation will establish a foundation of information that will propel the scientific discipline beyond the current state of knowledge while addressing the Grand Challenge. Each of the Science Frontiers will require cross-cutting areas of critical infrastructure to be in place. View the Agronomy, Crops and Soils Science Frontiers through the corresponding links.

(TOP) ~ Odds of another government shutdown?

The Budget Control Act enacted four years ago required across-the-board sequestration spending caps for a decade if Congress couldn't find debt reduction somewhere else. Here's how it's shaking out this time: with three months before the start of the new fiscal year deadline, Republicans want to exempt the Pentagon from the limits by tapping a special off-the-books war funding account, while letting the sequester hit non-Defense programs. Democrats, meanwhile, want the Pentagon money to be matched by dollar-for-dollar increases for pretty much everything else the government pays for, from preschool to cancer research. Last Thursday, Senate Democrats escalated the fight by refusing to let Republicans even begin debate on the annual spending bill for the Defense Department, a high-stakes political gamble exposing them to GOP attacks that they're not supporting American troops. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ USDA appropriations on the move

The House Appropriations Committee’s agriculture panel advanced a $20.7 billion fiscal 2016 discretionary spending bill, $175 million less than the previous year. While the bill provides flat funding for most of USDA research programs, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) would receive a $10 million increase, bringing its funding up to $335 million. The bill that would withhold $56 million — or 5 percent — of the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s funding until the agency can prove it’s in line with best animal welfare practices. ARS came under pressure in January after an article in The New York Times detailed suspect animal welfare practices at a Meat Animal Research Center facility in Nebraska. Full committee vote was postponed due to lawmakers returning home for funerals related to the South Carolina shooting. The Senate is set to take up their version after the July 4 recess.

(TOP) ~ U.S. must make agricultural research a priority

Food is plentiful and relatively inexpensive in the United States, thanks to many scientific advances across many disciplines. However, research funding for agriculture has stagnated, and it's hard to convince people that investments are needed now to prevent future food shortages, said Steven Leath, plant scientist and president of Iowa State University. Leath gave a speech at AAAS for the 2015 Charles Valentine Riley Memorial Lecture. Leath’s lecture coincided with the public release of the new report, “Pursuing a Unifying Message: Elevating Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources Research as a National Priority. A University Perspective.” The report summarizes a discussion among 23 invited leaders of universities, university associations and others on development of a unifying message. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Societies sign on to ‘Innovation: An American Imperative’

ASA, CSSA and SSSA joined with other leaders of American business, industry, higher education, science, and engineering in an urgent call to action for stronger federal policies and investment to drive domestic research and development. Ten CEOs and 252 organizations signed “Innovation: An American Imperative,” a document aimed at federal decision makers and legislators. It underscores the findings—and warnings—contained in The American Academy of Arts & Sciences report, "Restoring the Foundation: The Vital Role of Research in Preserving the American Dream." According to the report, “There is a deficit between what America is investing and what it should be investing to remain competitive, not only in research but in innovation and job creation.” The letter outlines seven action items that will help the US restore its commitment to strong R&D, including ending sequestration and improving STEM education. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ AGree report calls for food and agriculture research reform

AGree, an agricultural think tank with former USDA Secretary Dan Glickman as one of its co-chairs, released a report on how to improve the food and agricultural research system and called on Congress to hold hearings on the topic. The report, Research & Innovation: Strengthening Agricultural Research, includes nine recommendations to strengthen the impact of public research dollars by reforming the system and also makes the case for increased research funding. The recommendations were developed based on meetings held across the country throughout a two year period involving more than 100 people. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Pompeo releases reworked draft of GMO labeling bill

Rep. Mike Pompeo has made public a newly reworked draft of his GMO labeling bill, including changes that would give more jurisdiction to the House Agriculture Committee. Pompeo’s Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, introduced in March, would preempt state GMO labeling efforts under federal food safety laws. However, agriculture lawmakers have long called for more of a role in the process, which they would get under the new bill. Pompeo is aiming to get his Safe and Accurate Food Labeling act “across the House floor” before the August recess. The legislation currently has 65 co-sponsors, which includes 12 Democrats. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Waters of the US rule takes effect Aug. 28

The Obama administration's new definition of the “waters of the United States” regulated by the Clean Water Act will be formally published on Monday and will take effect Aug. 28. The rule, which was developed in response to a pair of Supreme Court rulings, re-defines what ditches, wetlands, streams and other features are subject to federal regulation under the anti-pollution law. The final version was more specific about some features that would be exempt from regulation, including underground drainage from farmland, but it also makes significant changes in definitions for tributaries and regulated wetlands. 27 states have already filed suit challenging the EPA’s Clean Water Rule, with more expected to come in the next few weeks. Read the full article.

Science News

(TOP) ~ Vadose Zone Journal highlights the growing science of growing media

For decades, peat has been the horticulture industry’s product of choice, but lately other organic materials have begun competing with peat, including biochar, coir, and compost. This month, a Vadose Zone Journal special issue aims to raise awareness of this trend, and promote dialogue among the diverse disciplines engaged in the growing science of growing media. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Revealing the ocean's hidden fertilizer

Phosphorus is one of the most common substances on Earth. An essential nutrient for every living organism--humans require approximately 700 milligrams per day--we are rarely concerned about consuming enough of it because it is present in most of the foods we eat. Despite its ubiquity and living organisms' utter dependence on it, we know surprisingly little about how it moves, or cycles, through the ocean environment. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Peak fragility: conserving mountain soils an urgent matter

Mountain soils are the fragile foundations of ecosystems that ultimately provide water for more than half the world's population. A new FAO book offers technical insights on the sustainable management of mountain soils, which are home to a vast array of human activities ranging from quinoa cultivation in the Andes through European ski resorts to the collection of medicinal plants in Tajikistan's "roof of the world" Pamir range. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ GMO dilemma: swaying a wary public

Proponents of modern genetic food modification through biotechnology expect it to help keep civilization going by feeding people who otherwise might starve, but the public is wary at best. Genetically modified organisms, or G.M.O.s, are produced in a more systematic way today and create much faster changes to the food supply, often by adding genetic material from various species into others. In a Pew Research Center survey published in January, 88 percent of scientists vouched for the safety of G.M. foods, as they’re usually called, dwarfing the 11 percent who considered them unsafe. Among the American public, 37 percent judged the foods safe and 57 percent unsafe. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ What climate change implies for global food security and trade

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released a new book, ‘Climate Change and Food Systems: Global Assessments and Implications for Food Security and Trade,' which argues that global warming will have profound consequences on where and how food is produced, and also lead to a reduction in the nutritional properties of some crops, all of which has policy implications for the fight against hunger and poverty and for the global food trade. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ World’s aquifers losing replenishment race, researchers say

From the Arabian Peninsula to northern India to California’s Central Valley, nearly a third of the world’s 37 largest aquifers are being drained faster than they are being replenished, according to a recent study led by scientists at the University of California, Irvine. The aquifers are concentrated in food-producing regions that support up to two billion people. A companion study indicates that the total amount of water in the aquifers, and how long it will last at current depletion rates, is still uncertain. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Microbe mobilizes 'iron shield' to block arsenic uptake in rice

University of Delaware (UD) researchers have discovered a soil microbe that mobilizes an "iron shield" to block the uptake of toxic arsenic in rice. The UD finding gives hope that a natural, low-cost solution--a probiotic for rice plants--may be in sight to protect this global food source from accumulating harmful levels of one of the deadliest poisons on the planet. Rice currently is a staple in the diet of more than half the world's population. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ WHO agency classifies 2,4-D as 'possibly carcinogenic to humans'

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) says that after reviewing the latest available scientific literature, it has classified the herbicide 2,4-D as “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” based on “limited evidence in experimental animals.” The classification was made by a working group of 26 experts from 13 countries, IARC said. Dr. Julie Goodman, an epidemiologist, was quick to point out, “this ranking does not mean that 2,4-D causes or is even likely to cause cancer in people. IARC ranks substances based on potential hazards, but it is important to look at how they are used to assess real-world risk. IARC has assigned its 2B grouping to many other common products including aloe vera, coffee and pickled vegetables." Read the full article.

International Corner

(TOP) ~ Israel bets on recycled water to meet its growing thirst

Treated sewage water provides close to a quarter of Israel's demand for water, right behind desalination, the other major process that has eased Israel's fear of drought. Half the water for Israel's farms comes from treated sewage water. But making that water—from toilets, showers, and factories—clean enough to use is challenging. So entrepreneurs are experimenting with other ways to cut the energy bill. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Dutch court orders government to do more to fight climate change

In a ruling that came as a surprise to many legal experts, a court in the Netherlands today ordered the Dutch government to dramatically intensify its fight against climate change. The district court in The Hague ruled that by 2020, the Netherlands must cut CO2 emissions by 25% from 1990 levels. Current government policies would lead to a reduction by just 17%. The case framed global warming as a human rights violation that the Dutch government must do more to prevent. Environmental groups hailed the ruling as a legal landmark that could inspire similar action elsewhere. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ E.U. science chief wants to work ERC magic on innovation

The European Union’s research commissioner Carlos Moedas has proposed setting up a European Innovation Council (EIC) to fund applied research and innovation. Inspired by the well-loved European Research Council (ERC), this idea is one of several measures announced here yesterday to boost innovation across the union. By citing ERC's success, Moedas also signals that he wants the future EIC to be a game changer. Read the full article.

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

(TOP) ~ Biofuel Infrastructure Partnership

States, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C., may apply now through July 15, 2015 for up to $100 million in grants under the Biofuel Infrastructure Partnership (BIP) to support the infrastructure needed to make more renewable fuel options available to American consumers. These competitive grants are available to fund activities designed to expand the infrastructure for renewable fuels. BIP grantees must provide matching contributions. The CCC funds must be used to pay a portion of the costs related to the installation of fuel pumps and related infrastructure dedicated to the distribution of higher ethanol blends, for example “E15” and “E85,” at vehicle fueling locations. The matching contributions may be used for these items or for additional related BIP costs such as additional infrastructure to support pumps, marketing, education, data collection, program evaluation, and associated administrative costs. Deadline, July 15. Read the full announcement.

(TOP) ~ New Technologies for Ag Extension

The purpose of the New Technologies for Ag Extension (NTAE) Program is to increase the capacity of the Cooperative Extension System (CES) to adopt new and innovative technology applications for delivering science-based educational resources from land-grant and other partner institutions about matters of high importance to the general public. Applications are being solicited for the NTAE to deliver state of the art technology and software applications, high quality leaders and staff, training for an exceptional CES workforce, legally binding contractual and financial instruments, and comprehensive evaluation, communications and marketing activities. Deadline, July 20. Read the full announcement.

(TOP) ~ Faculty Early Career Development Program

The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is a Foundation-wide activity that offers the National Science Foundation's most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations. Such activities should build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research. NSF encourages submission of CAREER proposals from junior faculty members at all CAREER-eligible organizations and especially encourages women, members of underrepresented minority groups, and persons with disabilities to apply. Deadline, July 21-23. Read the full announcement.

(TOP) ~ Solicitation of Members to the National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics Advisory Board

USDA is seeking the nomination of individuals to fill 9 vacancies on the National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics Advisory Board which provides advice to the Secretary of Agriculture and land-grant colleges and universities on top priorities and policies for food and agricultural research, education, extension and economics. The vacancies are for representatives of Category A. National Farm Organization; Category C. Food Animal Commodity Producer; Category I. National Human Health Association; Category N. Non-Land Grant College or University w/historic commitment to research in food and agricultural sciences; Category O. Hispanic-serving Institutions; Category Q. Transportation of Food and Agricultural Products to domestic and foreign markets Category R. Food Retailing and Marketing Interests; Category S. Food and Fiber Processors Category X. Private Sector Organization involved in International Development. Nominations due July 31. Read the full announcement.

(TOP) ~ Food and Agricultural Sciences National Needs Graduate and Postgraduate Fellowship

This grant program supports: (1) training students for Master's and doctoral degrees in food, agricultural and natural resource sciences, and; (2) Special International Study or Thesis/Dissertation Research Travel Allowances (IRTA) for eligible USDA NNF beneficiaries. Awards are specifically intended to support traineeship programs that engage outstanding students to pursue and complete their degrees in USDA mission areas. Applicants provide clarity about the philosophy of their graduate training, and relevance to USDA mission sciences, NIFA priorities and national science education policies and statistics. Applications are being solicited from institutions that confer a graduate degree in at least one of the following Targeted Expertise Shortage Areas: 1) animal and plant production; 2) forest resources; 3) agricultural educators and communicators; 4) agricultural management and economics; 5) food science and human nutrition; 6) sciences for agricultural biosecurity; and 7) training in integrative biosciences for sustainable food and agricultural systems. Deadline, August 19. Read the full announcement.

(TOP) ~ Advances in Biological Informatics

The Advances in Biological Informatics (ABI) program seeks to encourage new approaches to the analysis and dissemination of biological knowledge for the benefit of both the scientific community and the broader public. The ABI program is especially interested in the development of informatics tools and resources that have the potential to advance- or transform- research in biology supported by the Directorate for Biological Sciences at the National Science Foundation. The ABI program accepts three major types of proposals: Innovation awards that seek to pioneer new approaches to the application of informatics to biological problems, Development awards that seek to provide robust cyberinfrastructure that will enable transformative biological research, and Sustaining awards that seek to support ongoing operations and maintenance of existing cyberinfrastructure that is critical for continued advancement of priority biological research. Deadline, September 22. Read the full announcement.

(TOP) ~ Transportation Energy Resources from Renewable Agriculture

TERRA projects seek to accelerate the development of sustainable energy crops for the production of renewable transportation fuels from biomass. To accomplish this, the projects uniquely integrate agriculture, information technology, and engineering communities to design and apply new tools for the development of improved varieties of energy sorghum, a crop used to produce biofuel. The TERRA project teams will create novel platforms to enhance methods for crop phenotyping (identifying and measuring the physical characteristics of plants) which are currently time-intensive and imprecise. The new approaches will include automated methods for observing and recording characteristics of plants and advanced algorithms for analyzing data and predicting plant growth potential. The projects will also produce a large public database of sorghum genotypes (the DNA of a plant), enabling the greater community of plant physiologists, bioinformaticians and geneticists to generate breakthroughs beyond TERRA. These innovations will accelerate the annual yield gains of traditional plant breeding and support the discovery of new crop traits that improve water productivity and nutrient use efficiency needed to improve the sustainability of bioenergy crops. Read the full announcement.

Sources: USDA; NSF; AAAS; ScienceInsider; The New York Times; Politico; Riley Memorial Foundation; American Academy of Arts and Sciences; Agri-Pulse; Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; FAO; University of Delaware News; NPR

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.