Science Policy Report


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20 April 2016

In This Issue:

Policy News

~ USDA, NSF and DOE funding bills released by House and Senate
~ Roberts calls for GMO labeling pressure as BIO flies in
~ To fight global warming, Senate calls for study of making Earth reflect more light
~ U.S. House's group hears Cuban ag trade benefits
~ Agricultural research is the farmer’s ultimate antacid
~ GAO finds holes in USDA biotech regulation

Science News

~ Nitrogen, harvest moisture, and cultivar selection effects on rough rice and milling yields
~ Could global warming's top culprit help crops?
~ Neonicotinoid seed treatments produce higher soybean yields in the Southern US
~ How grad students get paid affects where they work
~ Land grant university programs helped keep farmers on the farm
~ Reducing food waste could curb climate change
~ Study examines the effects of exposing nitrogen-fixing bacteria in roots to fertilizer
~ NSF test finds eliminating deadlines halves number of grant proposals
~ Remediating brine-contaminated soils from the surface

International Corner

~ E.U. urged to free all scientific papers by 2020
~ Indian grain output seen testing record with stronger monsoon
~ Research and application of biochar in China
~ European Parliament backs glyphosate but with conditions
~ Rural water, not city smog, may be China’s pollution nightmare

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ Emergency: Citrus Disease Research and Extension
~ Ultraviolet Radiation Monitoring and Research Program
~ Rhizosphere Observations Optimizing Terrestrial Sequestration
~ Stave-Level Conservation Innovative Grants
~ Food Safety Outreach Program
~ Bioenergy Research Centers
~ 'One Shared Place' Contest Invites Educator-Student Videos

Policy News


(TOP) ~ USDA, NSF and DOE funding bills released by House and Senate

Last week, the House Agriculture and Energy & Water (E&W) and the Senate E&W Appropriations Subcommittees have released their bills with more expected to be released over the next few weeks. The House Agriculture bill, which sets funding for USDA, would provide $2.85 billion for research programs, including the Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The big news in the bill is the $25 million increase for the competitive grants program, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) bringing its budget to $375 million. Both the House and Senate E&W bills provide $5.40 billion for the Department of Energy, Office of Science, a disappointing increase of only $50 million above the previous year. The Senate Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee, which controls funding for the National Science Foundation, also approved its bill providing $7.51 billion for NSF, an increase of only $46 million. With the budget essentially flat this year, significant funding increases for research programs appears unlikely. Find all the latest budget news on our Budget and Appropriations webpages.


(TOP) ~ Roberts calls for GMO labeling pressure as BIO flies in

As biotech industry representatives head to Capitol Hill, GMO labeling will likely be top of mind. The Biotechnology Innovation Organization’s fly-in comes as Senate Agriculture Committee leaders are trying to reach a deal on how best to block Vermont’s GMO labeling law from taking effect July 1. With Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) determined to avoid on-package disclosures and ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) pushing for more information for consumers, it’s unclear if there is middle ground to be had. But the wild card in the negotiations could be if Roberts can get enough farm state Democrats to sign onto his bill to have it clear the 60-vote threshold needed for consideration on the floor. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ To fight global warming, Senate calls for study of making Earth reflect more light

Budgetmakers in the U.S. Senate want the Department of Energy (DOE) to study the possibility of making Earth reflect more sunlight into space to fight global warming. Earth's reflectivity is known as its albedo, and the request to study "albedo modification" comes in the details of a proposed spending bill passed by the Senate appropriations committee to fund DOE, the Army Corps of Engineers, and related agencies for fiscal year 2017, which begins 1 October. The bill does not specify how much money should be spent on the research. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ U.S. House's group hears Cuban ag trade benefits

The Cuba Working Group, a bipartisan group of U.S. House Members supporting efforts to end the Cuban trade and travel ban hosted a briefing for Congressional staff to highlight opportunities for U.S. agriculture that would result from bilateral trade between the U.S. and Cuba. Panelists from the agriculture industry presented on what this important market could mean for U.S. farmers and U.S. jobs. They also explored how U.S.-Cuba trading partnerships have the potential to build a foundation of goodwill and cooperation that will open the door to long-sought economic reforms in Cuba. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Agricultural research is the farmer’s ultimate antacid

The $25 million bump that House appropriators are proposing for competitive agriculture research grants isn't enough for American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall. In an op-ed in The Hill on Monday, the Georgia farmer backed the Obama administration's calls for funding the USDA's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative's grants at the authorized levels of $700 million in fiscal year 2017, double the $350 appropriation for FY2016. Given all of the problems facing farmers, the government needs to put money toward addressing those issues, Duvall wrote. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ GAO finds holes in USDA biotech regulation

The Government Accountability Office is urging the Agriculture Department to set a date for completing an update to the rules governing biotech crops, arguing that the regulations don't capture the full scope of genetically engineered products. "Until a rule is finalized, USDA will not be able to fully assess the potential risks to plant and environmental health posed by GE crops created with alternative technologies," the agency said in a report issued today. "Completing a new rule to update USDA’s regulations is particularly important given that the number of GE crops developed with alternative technologies is expected to grow." The GAO report stems from a July 2013 request from Sen. Jon Tester that the agency examine the federal government's oversight of biotechnology. Read the full article.

Science News


(TOP) ~ Nitrogen, harvest moisture, and cultivar selection effects on rough rice and milling yields

Proper on-farm practices in Mid-South rice production are key to optimizing production and profitability. As 85% of rice is produced for human consumption, it’s critical that milling yields (i.e., milled and head rice yield; HRY) are considered when developing management practices. Fertilizer nitrogen (N) and harvest moisture content (HMC) are important factors for maximizing rice yields; however, data is lacking on the interaction of these factors with modern hybrid and pure-line cultivars. In a study in the March–April 2016 issue of Agronomy Journal, researchers reported the response of rice cultivars during a three-year study in Arkansas where rice was fertilized at five N rates and grain harvested at high, medium, and low HMC. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Could global warming's top culprit help crops?

Many scientists fear that global warming will hit staple food crops hard, with heat stress, extreme weather events and water shortages. On the other hand, higher levels of carbon dioxide--the main cause of ongoing warming--is known to boost many plants' productivity, and reduce their use of water. So, if we keep pouring more CO2 into the air, will crops fail, or benefit? A new study tries to disentangle this complex question. It suggests that while greater warmth will reduce yields of some crops, higher CO2 could help mitigate the effects in some regions, unless other complications of global warming interfere. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Neonicotinoid seed treatments produce higher soybean yields in the Southern US

Scientists from Mississippi State University have found that treating soybean seeds with neonicotinoid pesticides provides higher yields in southern U.S. states. The results of their study, which are published in the Journal of Economic Entomology, contrast with a 2014 report from the U.S. Environmnental Protection Agency, which stated that neonicotinoid seed treatments offered no economic benefits. Led by Jeff Gore, an extension/research professor at Mississippi State, the researchers evaluated 170 field trials on soybean fields in four southern states over 10 years. Neonicotinoid seed treatments resulted in yields that were 203 kg/hectare higher in Louisiana, 165 kg/hectare higher in Mississippi, 112 kg/hectare higher in Arkansas, and 70 kg/hectare higher in Tennessee. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ How grad students get paid affects where they work

It’s only one study. But a novel analysis finding a link between how U.S. graduate students in the biomedical sciences are funded and their first job after earning their Ph.D. turns one piece of conventional wisdom on its head: Students supported on a research grant are more likely to take a research job than those funded by other mechanisms. That finding, which appears in the July issue of Research Policy but was posted online last week, adds fuel to an already heated debate over the best way to prepare the next generation of biomedical scientists. It’s also causing some serious head scratching among researchers who study the U.S. biomedical workforce. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Land grant university programs helped keep farmers on the farm

Federal cooperative extension programs have helped more than 137,000 farmers stay in business since 1985, according to economists. In a study, the researchers said that 137,700 farmers would have left the industry without the federal program, which uses research from the country's land grant universities to provide education and learning opportunities to farmers and other citizens. Without cooperative extension, and the underlying research, the researchers estimated that the country would have lost 28 percent more farmers than actually left agriculture. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Reducing food waste could curb climate change

It’s easy not to think about food waste when your rotting tomatoes and days-old casserole dishes are hidden away in the back of the refrigerator—out of sight, out of mind. But when it comes time to clean it out, you have to face a lot of wasted food, money, and the resources that took to produce it. While food waste has made a rapid rise in terms of public awareness recently, new research suggests that the future effect could end up accelerating climate change at a worrisome rate in coming years. According to a study released by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, food waste could account for about a tenth of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Study examines the effects of exposing nitrogen-fixing bacteria in roots to fertilizer

Plant biologists at the University of Illinois and Michigan State University have pinpointed the area of genomes within nitrogen-fixing bacteria in roots, called rhizobia, that's being altered when the plant they serve is exposed to nitrogen fertilizer. The study, published in the Royal Society journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, deepens the understanding of an Illinois study last year that indicated rhizobia--which are particularly beneficial to legumes such as clover, beans, peas, soybeans, lentils, and others--are less beneficial for plants when they are exposed to nitrogen fertilizer. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ NSF test finds eliminating deadlines halves number of grant proposals

In recent years, the National Science Foundation (NSF) in Arlington, Virginia, has struggled with the logistics of evaluating a rising number of grant proposals that has propelled funding rates to historic lows. Annual or semiannual grant deadlines lead to enormous spikes in submissions, which in turn cause headaches for the program managers who have to organize merit review panels. Now, one piece of the agency has found a potentially powerful new tool to flatten the spikes and cut the number of proposals: It can simply eliminate deadlines. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Remediating brine-contaminated soils from the surface

In the oil and gas industry, drilling and fracturing operations produce saline-sodic wastewaters (i.e., brines) as a byproduct. These brines commonly contain salts at concentrations similar to or well above that found in seawater. When a brine is released into the environment, soil remediation is necessary, and most methods involve either leaching the salts below the root zone, a time-consuming process, or the complete excavation of the contaminated soil. A recent article in Agricultural & Environmental Letters reports on a new method for removing salts from brine-contaminated soils. Read the full article.

International Corner


(TOP) ~ E.U. urged to free all scientific papers by 2020

One of the perks of holding the rotating presidency of the European Union is that it gives a member state a 6-month megaphone to promote its favorite policy ideas. For the Netherlands, which took over the presidency on 1 January, one surprising priority is open access (OA) to the scientific literature. Last week, the Dutch government held a 2-day meeting here in which European policymakers, research funders, librarians, and publishers discussed how to advance OA. The meeting produced an Amsterdam Call to Action that included the ambition to make all new papers published in the European Union freely available by 2020. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Indian grain output seen testing record with stronger monsoon

Forecasts for the first above-average monsoon in India in three years is set to boost planting of crops from rice to oilseeds, with record food grain output possible after two years of shortfall. Rainfall from June is seen at 106 percent of the 50-year average as the El Nino that often triggers dry weather weakens, the India Meteorological Department said. The prediction for a stronger monsoon after the first back-to-back deficit in 30 years is seen bolstering Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s aim to double farmer incomes in five years and stem the slide in his popularity ahead of key state elections next year. Output of crops including rice, corn, sugar cane and oilseed all fell last season increasing the cost of food in Asia’s third-largest economy. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Research and application of biochar in China

China is facing major environmental challenges, among which are soil contamination and quality deterioration, crop residue disposal other than field burning, and substantial agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. An innovative solution to these challenges is to convert agricultural byproducts into biochar and apply the biochar to farmland as a soil conditioner. Intensive scientific studies and pilot trials have been implemented in different regions of China to validate the agronomic and environmental benefits of soil biochar and to develop practical biochar fertilization programs. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ European Parliament backs glyphosate but with conditions

European politicians advised on Wednesday that the herbicide glyphosate should only be approved for another seven years, rather than the 15 proposed by the EU executive, and should not be used by the general public. Environmental campaigners have demanded a ban on glyphosate, which is used in products such as Monsanto's Roundup, on the grounds it can cause cancer, though EU and U.N. scientists disagree on whether there is a link. The European Commission has proposed glyphosate be approved for 15 years when an existing license expires at the end of June. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Rural water, not city smog, may be China’s pollution nightmare

More than 80 percent of the water from underground wells used by farms, factories and households across the heavily populated plains of China is unfit for drinking or bathing because of contamination from industry and farming, according to new statistics that were reported by Chinese media on Monday, raising new alarm about pollution in the world’s most populous country. After years of focus on China’s hazy skies as a measure of environmental blight, the new data from 2,103 underground wells struck a nerve among Chinese citizens who have become increasingly sensitive about health threats from pollution. Most Chinese cities draw on deep reservoirs that were not part of this study, but many villages and small towns in the countryside depend on the shallower wells of the kind that were tested for the report. Read the full article.

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities


(TOP) ~ Emergency: 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. Deadline, May 16. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Ultraviolet Radiation Monitoring and Research Program

The USDA has long been concerned about high levels of ultraviolet radiation (UV-B) from the Sun, which are known to have harmful effects on agricultural crops, rangelands, forest ecosystems, livestock, humans, and built infrastructure. The purpose of the Global Change, Ultraviolet Radiation Monitoring and Research Program is to support research and research infrastructure which: generates an uninterrupted stream of climatology data; determines mechanisms and symptoms of plant and animal response; and applies tightly integrated models to assess regional and national impacts (both biological and economic) of multiple plant stressors. Deadline, May 16. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Rhizosphere Observations Optimizing Terrestrial Sequestration

The ARPA-E program, Rhizosphere Observations Optimizing Terrestrial Sequestration (ROOTS), is pursuing technologies that increase the precision and throughput of crop breeding for improved root-soil biogeochemical function. ROOTS seeks to develop novel, non-destructive, field deployable technologies to:(1) measure root functional properties; (2) measure soil functional properties; and (3) advance predictive and extensible models that accelerate cultivar selection and development. These technologies—especially integrated systems—could greatly increase the speed and efficacy of discovery, field translation, and deployment of improved crops and production systems that significantly improve soil carbon accumulation and storage, decrease N2O emissions, and improve water efficiency. The aspiration of the ROOTS program is to develop crops that enable a 50% increase in carbon deposition depth and accumulation, a 50% decrease in fertilizer N2O emissions, and a 25% increase in water productivity. Taken over the 160 million hectares of actively managed U.S. cropland, such advances could mitigate ~10% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) annually over a multi-decade period, while also improving the climate resiliency of U.S. agricultural production. Concept paper deadline, May 26. 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.

Connecticut – Deadline May 20

Idaho – Deadline May 31

Caribbean Area – Deadline May 31

New Hampshire – Deadline June 1

Vermont – Deadline June 3

New Mexico – Deadline June 17


(TOP) ~ Food Safety Outreach Program

The Food Safety Outreach Program will complement and expand the national infrastructure, of the National Food Safety Training, Education, Extension, Outreach, and Technical Assistance Competitive Grants Program. The Food Safety Outreach Program will build upon that national infrastructure, with a sustained focus on delivery of customized training to members of the target audiences. Awardees will develop and implement food safety training, education, extension, outreach and technical assistance projects that address the needs of owners and operators of small to mid-sized farms, beginning farmers, socially-disadvantaged farmers, small processors, or small fresh fruit and vegetable merchant wholesalers. Grant applications will be solicited directly from those in local communities - to include those from community-based organizations, non-governmental organizations, food hubs, farm cooperatives, extension, and other local groups. Deadline, June 2. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Bioenergy Research Centers

The Genomic Science Program (GSP) in the Office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER) of the Office of Science (SC), U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), is a fundamental systems biology research program aimed at identifying the foundational principles of biological systems relevant to DOE missions in energy, climate, and the environment. One aspect of the program seeks to develop the science, technology, and knowledge base necessary to enable the cost effective production of specialty biofuels and bioproducts from plant biomass. This Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) requests applications from the scientific community for Bioenergy Research Centers (BRCs) that develop novel biological solutions for the production of specialty biofuels and other bioproducts from plants with the potential to enable a more bio-based economy. For the purposes of this FOA, specialty biofuels are those non-food cropderived fuels other than ethanol, and bioproducts are those that will replace petroleum derived non-pharmaceutical products. This FOA describes the establishment of multidisciplinary research and technology centers that will conduct comprehensive, integrated research in bioenergy and bioproducts. The BRCs will involve diverse disciplines in sustainability, feedstock development, deconstruction and conversion. Pre-proposal deadline, June 17. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ 'One Shared Place' Contest Invites Educator-Student Videos

Leading up to Earth Science Week 2016, the American Geosciences Institute (AGI) is pleased to invite teams of educators and students to enter its new "One Shared Place" contest. Each team will submit a 30- to 90-second original video informing viewers about an outdoor place that is special in terms of geoheritage (natural features, settings, and resources formed over vast periods) and geoscience. The contest, presented by AGI in partnership with the U.S. National Park Service, is open to teams of interested persons anywhere in the world. Each entry must be submitted by a "team captain" who is an educator at least 21 years old working with a team of 4-10 students of any age. Deadline, August 16. Read the full announcement.

Sources: USDA; DOE-SC; ARPA-E; AGI; ScienceInsider; Politico; The Stuttgart Daily Leader; The Hill; GAO; EurekaAlert; Science Daily; Nature; Take Part; The New York Times; Bloomberg; 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.



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