Science Policy Report

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10 February 2016

In This Issue:

Policy News

~ USDA AFRI budget doubled in President’s budget request
~ What will Obama’s last budget request mean for science?
~ U.S. House tees up controversial bill on NSF research
~ Food industry looks to Congress as GMO labeling law nears
~ AGree calls to action Presidential candidates
~ Heads Up: 2018 Farm Bill
~ House Science Committee thinks Paris climate agreement is bad for Americas

Science News

~ Tree crowns, trunks: Another type of green infrastructure?
~ How 'more food per field' could help save our wild spaces
~ Status of the World’s Soil Resources
~ A diet change to fight climate change: eat more pulses
~ Risk of lead poisoning from urban gardening is low
~ America’s 50 most powerful people in food for 2016
~ Soil policy in the EU
~ Will climate change move agriculture indoors?
~ #Agfacts for Super Bowl 50

International Corner

~ China cracks down on illegal GM crops ahead of Syngenta deal
~ Drought-stricken Zimbabwe declares state of disaster
~ Australia’s national lab network to cut staff and trim research efforts
~ Are robots taking over the farm? In Japan, they are.
~ India plans to borrow $12.6 billion overseas to fund irrigation
~ French law forbids food waste by supermarkets

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ Call For Nominations: ASA, CSSA, & SSSA Awards
~ USDA Grant Funding for Agricultural Research – new guidelines
~ Long-Term Ecological Research
~ Alfalfa and Forage Research Program
~ Farm Business Management and Benchmarking
~ Capacity Building Grants for Non Land Grant Colleges of Agriculture

Policy News

(TOP) ~ USDA AFRI budget doubled in President’s budget request

USDA Secretary, Tom Vilsack, and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, John Holdren, announced that the President’s fiscal year 2017 budget proposes to invest $700 million in AFRI, fully funding the amount authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill. In the seven years since AFRI was established, the program has led to true innovations and ground-breaking discoveries in agriculture to combat childhood obesity, improve and sustain rural economic growth, address water availability issues, increase food production, find new sources of energy, mitigate the impacts of climate variability and enhance resiliency of our food systems, and ensure food safety. NIFA Director, Sonny Ramaswamy also praised the proposal, calling for agriculture research to be a national priority. Read the Societies’ statement on the announcement here.

(TOP) ~ What will Obama’s last budget request mean for science?

When President Barack Obama unveils his 2017 budget request it will honor a 2-year spending agreement that he and Congress embraced this past December. The pact set a spending ceiling that was intended to usher in a temporary truce in the annual budget wars. But that truce appears to be short-lived: The White House will be asking legislators to boost research activities in many areas through the use of spending mechanisms that sidestep the normal appropriations process. And that request isn’t likely to win much support from the Republican majority. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ U.S. House tees up controversial bill on NSF research

This week the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to repeat a warning to the National Science Foundation (NSF) that every one of its research grants must advance “the national interest.” Depending on whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, passage of the Scientific Research in the National Interest Act (HR 3293) is either a simple reminder that federal dollars should be spent wisely, or an unwise and unwarranted intrusion into NSF’s grantsmaking process. House Science Committee Chairman, Lamar Smith, defends the bill in an op ed. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Food industry looks to Congress as GMO labeling law nears

The food industry is pressuring Congress to act before the state of Vermont requires food labels for genetically modified ingredients. At issue is how food companies will deal with Vermont's law. They could make separate food packages just for the state, label all their items with genetically modified ingredients or withdraw from the small Vermont market. The law kicks in by July, but the companies have to start making those decisions now. The food industry wants Congress to pre-empt Vermont's law and bar mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods before it goes into effect. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ AGree calls to action Presidential candidates

The right food and agricultural policies can improve the health of America’s families, economy, farms and the environment, as outlined in recommendations AGree is presenting to presidential candidates. AGree’s Call to Action provides core elements in a strategy for elevating food and agriculture as a national priority. The call to action advocates policy changes to strengthen the food and agricultural sector, improve health and nutrition of citizens and preserve our valuable natural resources. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Heads Up: 2018 Farm Bill

The topics of the day are the upcoming presidential caucuses and primaries. Fighting ISIS. Addressing immigration and refugee issues. And on the East Coast, dealing with Snowzilla-the record-approaching January snowfalls that have snarled traffic and halted commerce. But it really is time to begin thinking about the next farm bill. For those in environmental, wildlife and nongovernmental organizations, the focus never changes-preserving and enhancing the environment, increasing habitat for wildlife, improving water quality, making optimal use of available water and reducing waste. On the other hand, farm organizations and commodity groups have their eyes squarely on the presidential election process, although no candidates are addressing farm policy. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ House Science Committee thinks Paris climate agreement is bad for Americas

Countries both poor and rich participated in a historic moment on December 2015 as world leaders reached a landmark agreement in Paris to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change. But not everyone agrees. While Paris delegates were celebrating, politicians in Washington were grumbling about how bad the climate agreement was for the United States. The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology held a hearing to examine the various scientific, economic and other policy issues surrounding President Obama’s recent pledge to the United Nations-led effort to curtail greenhouse gas emissions. Also hear from one witness at the hearing. Read the full article.

Science News

(TOP) ~ Tree crowns, trunks: Another type of green infrastructure?

Green infrastructure systems for handling urban runoff naturally focus on soil and the roots of plants. But there is another green line of defense against stormwater, says U.S. Forest Service scientist Greg McPherson. “It’s kind of like a mini-sponge above the earth, which is the bigger, real sponge.” What he’s referring to are the aboveground surfaces of trees—their leaves, stems, and trunks—all of which also intercept rainwater and store it as a thin film until it evaporates or drips to the ground. In new research in the Journal of Environmental Quality, McPherson and USFS hydrologist Qingfu Xiao studied this “surface water storage capacity” of 23 common tree species in Davis, CA. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ How 'more food per field' could help save our wild spaces

Agricultural expansion is a leading cause of wild species loss and greenhouse gas emissions. However, as farming practices and technologies continue to be refined, more food can be produced per unit of land – meaning less area is needed for agriculture and more land can be 'spared' for natural habitats. While this may sound like good news for nature, conservation scientists warn that, without the right policies, higher farm yields could be used to maximize short-term profits and stimulate greater demand, resulting in less wilderness and more unnecessary consumption and waste. Read the dull article.

(TOP) ~ Status of the World’s Soil Resources

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) released its Status of the World’s Soil Resources report on December 4, 2015 during the International Year of Soils. The report is meant to be the first ever global assessment of soils and soil change. As stated in the Foreword, “soils are the foundation of food production and food security, supplying plants with nutrients, water, and support for their roots. Soils function as Earth’s largest water filter and storage tank; they contain more carbon than all above-ground vegetation, hence regulating emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases; and they host a tremendous diversity of organisms of key importance to ecosystem processes.” Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ A diet change to fight climate change: eat more pulses

Climate change may seem to many of us a challenge too daunting to tackle directly through our own actions. But there is one small change each of us can do to play our part – shifting our diets to be healthier and more environmentally sustainable. The type of food we choose to eat makes up a big part of our personal carbon footprint. The meat and dairy that make up 22 percent of developed world diets are responsible for emitting large amounts of greenhouse gases, particularly methane and nitrous oxide. But there is a food group which is highly nutritious, rich in protein and essential micronutrients, with a tiny carbon footprint. Pulses. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Risk of lead poisoning from urban gardening is low

Using compost is the single best thing you can do to protect your family from any danger associated with lead in urban soils. Good compost will also guarantee that you will have plenty of vegetables to harvest. That’s the main finding of a paper in the January-February 2016 issue of the Journal of Environmental Quality. The University of Washington-led study looked at potential risks associated with growing vegetables in urban gardens and determined that the benefits of locally produced vegetables in cities outweigh any risks from gardening in contaminated soils. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ America’s 50 most powerful people in food for 2016

Who wields power in the American food world? For the sixth year in a row, The Daily Meal is attempting to answer that question. Which people, whether CEOs of giant corporations or TV chefs or anything in-between, have the most influence over what and how we eat? Some people who have power in the food world have it literally — the power to make laws, disrupt the marketplace, control supply chains. Others exercise it in more subtle ways: They are the watchdogs, the inspirers, the facilitators. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Soil policy in the EU

Although agriculture and forests occupy 78% of the surface of the EU, currently there is not any clearly established soil policy in the EU, and only some member states have approved legislation. Though there are EU guidelines and policies on agriculture, water resources and pollution, lack of European legislation on soil does not ensure an adequate level of protection in Europe. However, the clear risk to achieve objectives on biodiversity and climate change led the EU to establish a Soil Thematic Strategy (2006) on soil protection. The Seventh Environment Action Program recognizes the progress made in the last decades, but still considers soil degradation risk as a serious problem, and that "unsustainable land use is consuming fertile soils, and soil degradation continues, resulting in impacts on global food security and the achievement of biodiversity targets". Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Will climate change move agriculture indoors?

As climate change does its thing to America, what it is going to do to the nation’s food supply is still an open question. Will California’s Central Valley, which grows a third of the produce eaten in the U.S., wither into a vegetable ghost town? Will other locations pick up the slack? Or will agriculture just take a look at the harsher droughts, crazier storms, and prolific insects that the future has in store and move indoors? Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ #Agfacts for Super Bowl 50

It’s that time of year again for American’s to gather around the big screen to catch the biggest football game of the year with friends and of course, good food. While Super Bowl food is most commonly pegged in the appetizer department, it has landed the football faceoff as the second biggest American eating holiday of the year – just behind Thanksgiving. According to the Calorie Council Control, the average American will shovel in 2,400 calories during the game. Read the full article.

International Corner

(TOP) ~ China cracks down on illegal GM crops ahead of Syngenta deal

Chinese officials have issued warnings to seed dealers and farmers not to use unapproved genetically modified seeds in the country's main crop belt, shortly after Greenpeace said it had found widespread GM contamination in corn. The unprecedented action by rural authorities in the past two weeks also comes as state-owned ChemChina agreed a $43 billion deal for seed and agrichemicals giant Syngenta AG (SYNN.VX), a move seen as bringing leading technology and know-how to China's fragmented seed industry as it grapples with a divisive GM policy. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Drought-stricken Zimbabwe declares state of disaster

Cattle, thin like their owners, wander in a parched riverbed. Desperate villagers barter a few fish for maize because there is no money for food. In this drought-stricken area of Zimbabwe, some people allege that who you know determines whether you'll get state food aid, with those out of favor with local officials going hungry. Underscoring the severity of the drought linked to the El Nino weather pattern hitting much of southern Africa, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe declared a state of disaster Thursday, with the hope of speeding up the flow of aid to needy communities. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Australia’s national lab network to cut staff and trim research efforts

Outrage has greeted a decision by the head of Australia’s premier research agency to cut jobs and eliminate work in certain fields, including basic climate science. According to Larry Marshall, chief executive of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) since 2014, there’s no need to “prove” climate change is real. “That question has been answered,” he wrote in an email message to staff yesterday. “The new question is what do we do about it.” Marshall’s decision to “realign” CSIRO’s priorities could see 350 jobs go over the next 2 years and comes on top of cuts of more than $15 million to climate and environmental science in the 2014–15 federal budget. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ Are robots taking over the farm? In Japan, they are.

A Japanese firm said on Monday it will soon open what may be the most futuristic farm yet: operated by robots, with their human assistants donning lab coats instead of overalls, and vegetables growing vertically on ceiling-high metal shelves instead of horizontally over bucolic fields. Spread, a cutting-edge food producer based in Kyoto, says its roughly one-acre indoor farm will start operating in 2017, producing 30,000 heads of pesticide-free lettuce a day initially. By using efficient lighting and watering, and shrinking the number of human employees, Spread will significantly reduce its costs, at least by half on labor. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ India plans to borrow $12.6 billion overseas to fund irrigation

India plans to raise $12.6 billion in overseas loans to fund irrigation projects due to concerns about water availability in Asia’s third-biggest economy. India is concerned about water availability after the strongest El Nino in almost two decades led to unusual weather and hurt crops from Ecuador to Indonesia. Rains, the main source of irrigation for India’s 263 million farmers, were 14% below the 50-year average from an initial forecast of 7% lower. Agriculture contributes about 15% to India’s GDP and is the nation’s biggest employer. Read the full article.

(TOP) ~ French law forbids food waste by supermarkets

France has become the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food, forcing them instead to donate it to charities and food banks. Under a law passed unanimously by the French senate, as of Wednesday large shops will no longer bin good quality food approaching its best-before date. Charities will be able to give out millions more free meals each year to people struggling to afford to eat. The law follows a grassroots campaign in France by shoppers, anti-poverty campaigners and those opposed to food waste. Read the full article.

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

(TOP) ~ Call For Nominations: ASA, CSSA, & SSSA Awards

The American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America invite nominations for their 2016 awards and scholarships, which recognize researchers, educators, extension professionals, and students. Nominate a colleague for one of the dozens of awards; and students can apply for numerous scholarships, including Greenfield and Golden Opportunity Scholars. Awards Deadlines: March 22 to initiate nominations and March 29 for reference letters and final submission. Scholarship Deadlines: March 29 to initiate applications and April 5 for reference letters and final submission.

(TOP) ~ USDA Grant Funding for Agricultural Research – new guidelines

Competitive and Noncompetitive Non-Formula Federal Assistance Programs managed by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has issued a set of general and specific administrative requirements which are intended to enhance its accountability and to standardize procedures across the Federal assistance programs it administers [Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI), Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), Integrated Research, Education, and Extension Competitive Grants (406) Program, Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), Capacity Building Grants for Non-Land Grant Colleges of Agriculture Program (NLGCA), and Sun Grant Program] while providing transparency to the public. Read the full annoucement.

(TOP) ~ Long-Term Ecological Research

To address ecological questions that cannot be resolved with short-term observations or experiments, NSF established the Long Term Ecological Research Program (LTER) in 1980. Two components differentiate LTER research from projects supported by other NSF programs: 1) the research is located at specific sites chosen to represent major ecosystem types or natural biomes, and 2) it emphasizes the study of ecological phenomena over long periods of time based on data collected in five core areas. Long-term studies are essential to achieve an integrated understanding of how populations, communities, and other components of ecosystems interact as well as to test ecological theory. Ongoing research at LTER sites must test ecological theories and significantly advance understanding of the long-term dynamics of populations, communities and ecosystems. It often integrates multiple disciplines and, through cross-site interactions, examines patterns or processes over broad spatial scales. Recognizing that the value of long-term data extends beyond use at any individual site, NSF requires that data collected by all LTER sites be made broadly accessible. Deadline, March 4. Read the full announcement.

(TOP) ~ Alfalfa and Forage Research Program

AFRP supports integrated, collaborative research and technology transfer to improve the efficiency and sustainability of conventional and organic forage production systems. AFRP encourages projects that establish multi-disciplinary networks to address priority national or regional science needs of the forage industry. By bringing together expertise from multiple organizations and states, these projects will have greater impact and will enhance the effectiveness of limited state, federal and industry resources. In FY 2016, AFRP will support the development of improved alfalfa forage and seed production systems. NIFA is soliciting applications for the FY 2016 under the following areas: 1.Improving alfalfa forage yield and seed yield through better nutrient, water and/or pest management; 2.Improving persistence of alfalfa stands by lessening biotic or abiotic stresses; 3.Improving alfalfa forage and seed harvesting and storage systems to optimize economic returns; 4.Improving estimates of alfalfa forage quality as an animal feed to increase forage usage in animal feeds; and/or 5.Breeding to address biotic and abiotic stresses that impact alfalfa forage yield and persistence and the production of seed for propagation. Deadline, April 13. Read the full announcement.

(TOP) ~ Farm Business Management and Benchmarking

The Farm Business Management and Benchmarking (FBMB) Competitive Grants Program provides funds to (1) improve the farm management knowledge and skills of agricultural producers; and (2) establish and maintain a national, publicly available farm financial management database to support improved farm management. Deadline, April 11. Read the full announcement.

(TOP) ~ Capacity Building Grants for Non Land Grant Colleges of Agriculture

NLGCA Institutions may use the funds: (a) to successfully compete for funds from Federal grants and other sources to carry out educational, research, and outreach activities that address priority concerns of national, regional, State, and local interest; (b) to disseminate information relating to priority concerns to interested members of the agriculture, renewable resources, and other relevant communities, the public, and any other interested entity; (c) to encourage members of the agriculture, renewable resources, and other relevant communities to participate in priority education, research, and outreach activities by providing matching funding to leverage grant funds; and (d) through: (1) the purchase or other acquisition of equipment and other infrastructure (not including alteration, repair, renovation, or construction of buildings); (2) the professional growth and development of the faculty of the NLGCA Institution; and (3) the development of graduate assistantships. Deadline, April 22. Read the full announcement.

Sources: USDA; NSF; EGU; ScienceInsider; The New York Times; NIFA Blog; The Des Moines Register; Tech Times; Agri-Pulse; Pacific Standard; RNRF Blog; University of Cambridge News; Food Tank; The Daily Meal; Cattle Network; Grist; Christian Science Monitor; Reuters; Associated Press; Bloomberg; The Guardian;

Vision: The Societies Washington, DC Science Policy Office (SPO) will advocate the importance and value of the agronomic, crop and soil sciences in developing national science policy and ensuring the necessary public-sector investment in the continued health of the environment for the well being of humanity. The SPO will assimilate, interpret, and disseminate in a timely manner to Society members information about relevant agricultural, natural resources and environmental legislation, rules and regulations under consideration by Congress and the Administration.

This page of the ASA-CSSA-SSSA web site will highlight current news items relevant to Science Policy. It is not an endorsement of any position.