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Science Policy Report

Address all comments to the Science Policy Office at:
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11 January 2017

In This Issue:

Policy News

~ ASA, CSSA, SSSA members: deadline for policy awards is Friday, January 13
~ As the 115th Congress is sworn in, what lies ahead?
~ Interviews for Secretary of Agriculture continue
~ How does a US president settle on his science policy?
~ After 16 years of lawmaking, science ally Mike Honda departs
~ Are climate scientists ready for Trump?
~ President Obama honors federally-funded early-career scientists

Science News

~ Response of alfalfa populations to salinity stress
~ How drones could become a farmer’s best friend
~ These foods aren’t genetically modified but they are ‘edited’
~ Soil carbon capture: Great loamy hope or bandaid?
~ President Obama: The irreversible momentum of clean energy
~ U.S. should pursue controversial geoengineering research, federal scientists say for first time
~ Deriving effective soil water retention characteristics from shallow water table fluctuations in peatlands
~ Glyphosate panel split on chemical's carcinogenicity
~ Dust Bowl would devastate today’s crops, study finds
~ Invasive 'super weed' spreads through Iowa
~ Scientists loved and loathed by an agrochemical giant

International Corner

~ A plan for U.K. science after the European Union referendum
~ Global agriculture trends: are we actually using less land?

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ Seeding Solutions
~ Webinar: FFAR Pollinator Health Fund
~ Sedimentary Geology and Paleobiology
~ Request for Comments: Climate Science Special Report
~ Montana Specialty Crop Block Grant
~ Impacts of Climate Change on Oceans and Great Lakes
~ Critical Techniques, Technologies and Methodologies for Advancing Foundations and Applications of Big Data Sciences and Engineering
~ Stave-Level Conservation Innovative Grants
~ STEM + Computing Partnerships

Policy News


(TOP) ~ ASA, CSSA, SSSA members: deadline for policy awards is Friday, January 13

Last chance to apply for several science policy opportunities open to ASA, CSSA and SSSA members. Society members with an interest in advocacy can apply for funding to participate in the 2017 Congressional Visits Day, March 13-14 in Washington, D.C. Graduate student members can apply here and non-student members (early, mid or late career) can apply here. Members with a PhD who would like to spend a year working in DC for a member of Congress should apply for the 2018 Congressional Science Fellowship. Deadline for all three applications is THIS FRIDAY, January 13.


(TOP) ~ As the 115th Congress is sworn in, what lies ahead?

With complete control of Congress and the White House, Republicans have a unique opportunity to reshape the $4 trillion federal budget next year. But even as GOP leaders look for policy wins, a series of treacherous deadlines and stiff Democratic resistance will complicate matters. On January 3, Senate Republicans released a bare-bones budget in their first step to repeal Obamacare. The budget resolution includes instructions for drafting legislation aimed at repealing the health care law through reconciliation, a process that allows the bill to pass with a simple majority and sidesteps the threat of Democratic obstruction in the Senate. But the path to repeal is still uncertain. The budget resolution would allow the annual deficit to almost double over the next decade; a hard pill to swallow for fiscal conservatives. Even if the repeal legislation can be passed along party-line votes, there is still no consensus on what a replacement for the health care law would look like or how it could be phased in.


(TOP) ~ Interviews for Secretary of Agriculture continue

As of January 1, President-elect Trump has yet to name his nominee for Secretary of Agriculture. The position is one of two cabinet-level jobs that remain to be filled. President-elect Trump spent much of the week of December 26 interviewing candidates. Among those being vetted are four Texans: former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs, current Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, former House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Henry Bonilla and former President of Texas A&M University Elsa Murano. All four of these candidates spent time with Trump and senior members of his team discussing agriculture and food policy issues. Former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue was interviewed in late November and has re-emerged as a strong contender for the position. A decision on the nominee is expected soon. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ How does a US president settle on his science policy?

One of the president’s most important responsibilities is fostering science, technology and innovation in the U.S. economy. The relationship between science and policy runs in two directions: Scientific knowledge can inform policy decisions, and conversely, policies affect the course of science, technology and innovation. Historically, government spending on science has been good for the economy. President-elect Trump has made clear he intends to boost the economy’s growth rate and supporting science and technology should be a vital part of his plan. So how does an American president settle on research priorities for the country? Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ After 16 years of lawmaking, science ally Mike Honda departs

Representative Mike Honda has sat through more than a thousand hearings in his 16 years as a member of Congress representing a northern California district in the heart of Silicon Valley. At each one, says the 75-year-old Democrat, he listened impatiently as his colleagues put pet projects and petty grievances ahead of the chance to hear experts summoned to share their knowledge on a pressing issue. It’s not a problem the former high school science teacher will have to endure any longer: Next month, after having failed to win a ninth term, Honda will be leaving Congress. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Are climate scientists ready for Trump?

How should climate scientists react to a president-elect who calls global warming a “hoax?” How much should they prepare for his administration? And should they ready themselves for the worst? These questions loomed over the fall conference of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) this month, the largest annual gathering of Earth scientists in the world. How the scientific profession chooses to answer them may decide whether the United States can summon the political will necessary to finally vanquish climate-change denialism—or whether it will continue to muddle through on the issue, not really attending to it, as it has for the past three decades. The meeting revealed a quasi-generational split. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ President Obama honors federally-funded early-career scientists

President Obama named 102 scientists and researchers as recipients of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers. The Presidential Early Career Awards highlight the key role that the Administration places in encouraging and accelerating American innovation to grow our economy and tackle our greatest challenges. It is the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers. Read the full article.

Science News


(TOP) ~ Response of alfalfa populations to salinity stress

Alfalfa is a moderately salt- tolerant crop with high economic return and is, therefore, more suitable for production with lower-quality water than most high-value crops. New research published in Crop Science examines the effects of water composition types of the irrigation water and salinity levels on biomass production, salt tolerance, and ion concentration of 15 populations. The populations showed similar performance in response to salinity under both salt types, thus, Cl- ion toxicity does not appear to be a factor in alfalfa salt tolerance. Although there was a correlation between tolerance and shoot Na+, the shoot ion concentration provides only a partial explanation of the salt tolerance. The knowledge generated provides information to continue a breeding program, with ‘SISA 14’ as a promising experimental population based on both its salt tolerance and biomass production under saline conditions. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ How drones could become a farmer’s best friend

Billions of gallons of freshwater are used every day to irrigate crops, but a lot of it gets wasted on already ripe or dying plants. Now, researchers have used images captured by an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to map barley fields and determine which rows of plants are most in need of water. The team mounted cameras sensitive to visual and infrared light—to collect both optical and thermal information—on a battery-powered UAV and flew the drone 90 meters above fields in Denmark. With the airborne imagery, obtained in spring and summer, the researchers measured the greenness and temperature of the barley plants and calculated the water stress level of each 25-by-25-centimeter patch of field, as they report in Biogeosciences last month. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ These foods aren’t genetically modified but they are ‘edited’

In a few years, you could be eating the next generation of genetically altered foods — potatoes that do not turn brown or soybeans with a healthier mix of fatty acids. And you may have no idea that something is different, because there may be no mention on the labeling even after a law passed by Congress last year to disclose genetically modified ingredients takes effect. A new generation of crops known as gene-edited rather than genetically modified is coming to the market. Created through new tools that snip and tweak DNA at precise locations, they, at least for now, largely fall outside of current regulations. Unlike older methods of engineering genes, these techniques, like Crispr, so far have generally not been used to add genes from other organisms into the plants. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Soil carbon capture: Great loamy hope or bandaid?

Recently I was challenged to assess the likely capacity of soil carbon sequestration approaches (sometimes referred to as biological carbon capture and sequestration or BCCS) by a researcher in the space. The premise was that two thirds of the carbon which had been sequestered in the soil had been lost into the atmosphere as grasslands were converted to large-scale agriculture, and that changing agricultural practices would be sufficient to act as a sink for the majority of excess CO2 emitted. What exactly is the mechanism? How much potential does BCCS offer? How much effort would be required to implement a large scale fix? There have been some interesting findings in plant biology in the past two decades, specifically concerning something called glomalin. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ President Obama: The irreversible momentum of clean energy

The release of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) due to human activity is increasing global average surface air temperatures, disrupting weather patterns, and acidifying the ocean. Left unchecked, the continued growth of GHG emissions could cause global average temperatures to increase by another 4°C or more by 2100 and by 1.5 to 2 times as much in many midcontinent and far northern locations. Although our understanding of the impacts of climate change is increasingly and disturbingly clear, there is still debate about the proper course for U.S. policy—a debate that is very much on display during the current presidential transition. But putting near-term politics aside, the mounting economic and scientific evidence leave me confident that trends toward a clean-energy economy that have emerged during my presidency will continue and that the economic opportunity for our country to harness that trend will only grow. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ U.S. should pursue controversial geoengineering research, federal scientists say for first time

The U.S. government office that oversees federally funded climate research has recommended studies into two areas of geoengineering research, marking the first time scientists in the executive branch have formally called for studies in the controversial field. The move, part of a climate science planning report sent to Congress, will likely further normalize discussion of deliberate tinkering with the atmosphere to cool the planet, and of directly collecting carbon from the sky, both topics once-verboten in the climate science community. Yet the new endorsement of geoengineering research comes amid deep uncertainty about the direction that climate research will take under the new administration of president-elect Donald Trump. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Deriving effective soil water retention characteristics from shallow water table fluctuations in peatlands

Peatlands are important storage locations for soil carbon and sinks for carbon dioxide. Peat is a type of soil that is primarily composed of partially decomposed plant residuals that exists in an oxygen-deficit environment. It’s the primary component of most wetlands of the world and thus holds an important place in water resources and hydrology. The soil moisture content of the peat soil determines the storage, transport, and release of carbon dioxide, and as a result, the soil hydraulic properties are very important in any climate change studies. Authors of an article recently published in Vadose Zone Journal use a statistical inversion to determine the soil water retention characteristics using the assumptions of hydrostatic equilibrium and the fact that the lateral fluxes during precipitation are minor compared with the vertical fluxes during precipitation events. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Glyphosate panel split on chemical's carcinogenicity

Environmental Protection Agency officials received a mixed message from scientists assembled to review evidence of whether glyphosate is a human carcinogen. The members of a Scientific Advisory Panel concluded their four-day meeting in Arlington, Virginia, by offering opinions on EPA's conclusion that the active ingredient in Roundup, the world's most widely used herbicide, is “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.” The result: The panel was split on the issue. Some members backed EPA's finding and others said that the evidence was “suggestive” of carcinogenic potential for the chemical. Some on the panel were not expecting that. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Dust Bowl would devastate today’s crops, study finds

A drought on the scale of the legendary Dust Bowl crisis of the 1930s would have similarly destructive effects on U.S. agriculture today, despite technological and agricultural advances, a new study finds. Additionally, warming temperatures could lead to crop losses at the scale of the Dust Bowl, even in normal precipitation years by the mid-21st century, UChicago scientists conclude. The study, published Dec. 12 in Nature Plants, simulated the effect of extreme weather from the Dust Bowl era on today’s maize, soy and wheat crops. Authors Michael Glotter and Joshua Elliott of the Center for Robust Decision Making on Climate and Energy Policy at the Computation Institute, examined whether modern agricultural innovations would protect against history repeating itself under similar conditions. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Invasive 'super weed' spreads through Iowa

Farmers in Iowa, Minnesota and some other Midwestern states have learned that the native grasses and prairies planted to help butterflies and other pollinators inadvertently have spread the noxious weed. It has overrun and choked fields across the southern United States, where it has proved resistant to several herbicides, including widely used glyphosate. Minnesota farm leaders are so concerned about the aggressive, prolific weed that they attacked it with blow torches last fall, seeking to destroy seeds that can reach up to 500,000 on each plant. The weed is in 30 fields, filter strips and plantings in two counties. Palmer amaranth, which can dramatically cut crop yields, has been identified in 49 counties in Iowa, nearly 10 times as many counties than at the start of the year. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Scientists loved and loathed by an agrochemical giant

The bee findings were not what Syngenta expected to hear. The pesticide giant had commissioned James Cresswell, an expert in flowers and bees at the University of Exeter in England, to study why many of the world’s bee colonies were dying. Companies like Syngenta have long blamed a tiny bug called a varroa mite, rather than their own pesticides, for the bee decline. Dr. Cresswell has also been skeptical of concerns raised about those pesticides, and even the extent of bee deaths. But his initial research in 2012 undercut concerns about varroa mites as well. So the company, based in Switzerland, began pressing him to consider new data and a different approach. Read the full article.

International Corner


(TOP) ~ A plan for U.K. science after the European Union referendum

The 2016 vote to leave the European Union (EU) shocked British scientists. The European Union enjoys strong support from researchers across United Kingdom academia and industry, with 17% of all U.K. university science contracts now funded by the European Union, accounting for 73% of the growth in U.K. university science budgets in recent years. These EU funds support high-value multinational collaborations. Free movement of researchers within the European Union ensures flow of talent to where it is most needed and helps early career researchers acquire scarce skills. U.K. scientists have enjoyed access to EU research infrastructure and strong influence on shared regulatory systems. Facing potential exclusion from a global science powerhouse that it has done so much to shape, how should the United Kingdom disentangle itself from this 40-year old collaboration? Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Global agriculture trends: are we actually using less land?

Slash and burn agriculture. Palm oil plantations. Deforestation in the Amazon. The environmental news about the natural habitat being converted to agriculture has been pretty grim. When you consider that we will need 70% more food by 2050 (assuming that we don’t make serious progress in reducing waste, slowing population growth, or halting the increase in consumption of animal products, FAO 2011) it’s hard to feel hopeful about the future. Without improving yields, that 70% increase in food would require over 34,000,000 km2 of new farmland and ranches to be created, an area larger than the entire continent of Africa. That’s why I was surprised to find what appears to be good news lurking in global data. Read the full article.

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities


(TOP) ~ Seeding Solutions

This open funding opportunity is designed to work toward Seeding Solutions to today's food and agriculture challenges. Prospective grantees are invited to submit pre-proposals for up to $1,000,000 of FFAR funding, and must secure equal or greater matching funding from a non-Federal source before a grant will be awarded. We anticipate funding at least one meritorious, transformative proposal in each of our Challenge Areas: 1) Food Waste and Loss, 2) Protein Challenge, 3) Water Scarcity, 4) Innovation Pathway to Sustainability, 5) Healthy Soils, Thriving Farms, 6) Urban Food Systems and 7) Making My Plate Your Plate. Deadline, January 16. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Webinar: FFAR Pollinator Health Fund

Please join the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research to discuss the Pollinator Health Fund, a new $10 million commitment from FFAR to meet pressing pollinator health research needs during a webinar on January 23, 10am EST. Presenters will discuss FFAR's research interests related to pollinator health and how to partner with FFAR to advance research in this important field. The webinar will close with an open Q&A session. Learn more and register here.


(TOP) ~ Sedimentary Geology and Paleobiology

Sedimentary Geology and Paleobiology supports innovative research that addresses the deep-time sedimentary crust and advances our understanding of environmental and evolutionary change. The program seeks to fund projects that focus on: (1) the changing aspects of life, ecology, environments, and biogeography in geologic time based on fossil organisms and/or sedimentological data; (2) all aspects of the Earth's sedimentary lithosphere – insights into the geological processes and rich organic and inorganic resources locked in rock sequences; (3) the science of dating and measuring the sequence of events and rates of geological processes as manifested in Earth's deep-time (pre-Holocene) sedimentary and biological (fossil) record; and (4) the geologic record of the production, transportation, and deposition of modern and ancient physical and chemical sediments. No deadline, proposals accepted at any time. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Request for Comments: Climate Science Special Report

The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) seeks public comment on the third-order draft of its Climate Science Special Report (CSSR). This special report provides an update to the physical climate science presented in the Third National Climate Assessment (NCA3) released in 2014, specifically Chapter 2 and Appendices 3 and 4. The draft CSSR provides updated climate science findings and projections, and is an important input to the authors of the next quadrennial NCA (NCA4), expected in 2018. Deadline, February 3. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Montana Specialty Crop Block Grant

The Montana Department of Agriculture is pleased to present the Specialty Crop Block Grant (SCBG). The purpose of this program is solely to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops in Montana. For purposes of the program, specialty crops are defined as fruits, vegetables, peas and lentils, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops (including floriculture). Deadline, February 22. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Impacts of Climate Change on Oceans and Great Lakes

The purpose of this Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) is to invite applications for multi-component projects that will investigate the impact of climate change on emerging public health threats associated with marine and Great Lakes Basin environments. The focus of the program will be to support research on the exposures, toxicities and human health impacts that arise in these environments and how climate change is influencing these factors now and in the future. The FOA solicits applications that will achieve program goals through integrated, multidisciplinary scientific approaches and a community engagement component. Deadline, March 7. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Critical Techniques, Technologies and Methodologies for Advancing Foundations and Applications of Big Data Sciences and Engineering

The BIGDATA program seeks novel approaches in computer science, statistics, computational science, and mathematics, along with innovative applications in domain science, including social and behavioral sciences, education, biology, the physical sciences, and engineering that lead towards the further development of the interdisciplinary field of data science. The solicitation invites two categories of proposals: 1) Foundations and 2) Innovative Applications. Proposals in both categories must include a clear description of the big data aspect(s) that have motivated the proposed approach. Deadline window, March 15-22. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Stave-Level Conservation Innovative Grants

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

New Jersey – Preproposal deadline, February 24

Louisiana – Deadline, March 3


(TOP) ~ STEM + Computing Partnerships

As computing has become an integral part of the practice of modern science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), the STEM + Computing Partnerships program seeks to address the urgent need to prepare students from the early grades through high school in the essential skills, competencies, and dispositions needed to succeed in a computationally-dependent world. Thus, STEM+C advances the integration of computational thinking and computing activities in early childhood education through high school (pre-K-12) to provide a strong and developmental foundation in computing and computational thinking through the integration of computing in STEM teaching and learning, and/or the applied integration of STEM content in pre-K-12 computer science education. Deadline, March 29. Read the full announcement.

Sources: USDA; NSF; NIH; ScienceInsider; FASS Newsletter; Bloomberg; The Conversation; The Atlantic; White House News; The New York Times; Renew Economy; Science Magazine; Agri-Pulse; University of Chicago News; The Des Moines Register; Nature Blog; Global Change; FFAR

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.