Science Policy Report


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25 February 2015

In This Issue:

Policy News

~ White House calls climate change a “threat” to national security
~ Societies thank Senate Appropriations leadership for protecting climate science funding
~ FAA issues its small drone rule
~ Societies support funding for Farm Bill conservation programs
~ Geoscience supports innovation, national security and job creation
~ Panel urges research on Geoengineering as a tool against climate change
~ NIFA webinars on FY 2015 Centers of Excellence implementation

Science News

~ Visit Dig It! in Sacramento!
~ Future US megadroughts set to be the worst in 1,000 years
~ Modeling nutrient loss from Midwestern crop fields
~ Climate change could expand double cropping in the U.S.
~ The future of agriculture? Smart farming
~ Climate skeptic’s fossil fuel funding puts spotlight on journal conflict policies

International Corner

~ As IPCC chair exits, focus moves to who comes next
~ Ukraine’s science minister aims to mend Soviet-era rift
~ Indian grad students take to streets over miserable pay
~ The fertile roots of Rwanda's green revolution

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ Higher Education Challenge Grants Program
~ Call for nominations for regional assessments and global scoping
~ Professional Development Grant Program
~ Agriculture and Natural Resources Science for Climate Variability and Change Challenge Area
~ Water for Agriculture Challenge Area
~ Agriculture and Food Research Initiative - Foundational Program
~ Food Safety Challenge Area

Policy News


(TOP) ~ White House calls climate change a “threat” to national security

The White House highlighted climate change as a major risk to Americans at home and abroad on Friday with the release of its latest national security strategy. The document, which serves as a road map for President Obama's national security agenda, ranks climate change alongside weapons of mass destruction, infectious disease, and threats against American citizens abroad as top priorities for U.S. foreign policy. Obama has warned that climate change poses a threat to international stability before, but Friday's document puts global warming front and center, addressing climate risks and impacts early on and throughout the report. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Societies thank Senate Appropriations leadership for protecting climate science funding

As part of the Climate Science Working Group, ASA, CSSA and SSSA signed on to a thank you letter  to Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Richard Shelby to thank them for removing the policy riders and report language that would have cut funding to or limited the use of climate science research in the final FY 2015 appropriations bill. Read the letter here.


(TOP) ~ FAA issues its small drone rule

This weekend the FAA released its long awaited rule that would allow for the commercial use of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). The rule applies to UAS weighing under 55 pounds and covers non-recreational use, including business, academic, and research and development. Several conditions for their use apply: drones cannot be operate at night, they must always remain in sight of the operator, they will not be allowed to operate over people and can go no higher than 500 feet and no faster than 100 mph. UAS operators will not be required to obtain airworthiness certification, as required of manned aircraft, but they will be required to pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test and then a recurrent test every 24 months. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Societies support funding for Farm Bill conservation programs

In a joint letter, ASA, CSSA and SSSA urged House and Senate Budget Committee leadership to protect mandatory funding for farm bill conservation programs during the fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget process and opposes the more than $800 million in cuts to the Farm Bill Conservation Title proposed in the President’s FY 2016 budget. The letter also outlines the benefits of conservation programs in preparing for extreme weather events and protecting critical natural resources. Read the letter here.


(TOP) ~ Geoscience supports innovation, national security and job creation

SSSA, along with several other national organizations and scientific societies, signed on to a letter to the House and Senate National Science Foundation authorizing committees that provides information on the importance of investing in the geosciences as it relates to innovation, economic impact, safety and security. The letter was primarily in response to language in the FIRST Act that would have cut NSF geosciences funding by 3 percent. The letter is an attempt to make the case for the geosciences as Congress begins to consider new legislation to reauthorize NSF. Read the letters here.


(TOP) ~ Panel urges research on Geoengineering as a tool against climate change

With the planet facing potentially severe impacts from global warming in coming decades, a government-sponsored scientific panel called for more research on geoengineering — technologies to deliberately intervene in nature to counter climate change. The panel said the research could include small-scale outdoor experiments, which many scientists say are necessary to better understand whether and how geoengineering would work. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ NIFA webinars on FY 2015 Centers of Excellence implementation

The 2014 Farm Bill requires that NIFA give priority in competitive research and extension funding to Centers of Excellence in the food and agricultural sciences. As part of its outreach effort, NIFA’s Office of Grants and Financial Management will hold two educational webinars to present information on the FY15 implementation of the Centers of Excellence Provision. The webinars will be held from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. EST, Feb. 26 and March 5. Find more information here.

Science News


(TOP) ~ Visit Dig It! in Sacramento!

Visit the Dig It! The Secrets of Soil exhibit at the California Museum in Sacramento, CA. Dig It! communicates to the general public about the connection between soils and everyday life. Originally created by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in conjunction with SSSA and The Fertilizer Institute, Dig It! is now a traveling exhibit sponsored by SSSA. The exhibit will run through March 29 before moving to the North Carolina Natural Sciences Museum in Raleigh, NC. See here for more information on Dig It!  


(TOP) ~ Future US megadroughts set to be the worst in 1,000 years

Decades-long droughts are likely to ravage the US Southwest and Great Plains within the next century, a study suggests. This drying could be worse than any other in the past 1,000 years, including a 'megadrought' seven centuries ago that helped drive an ancient civilization to collapse. The work, published in Science Advances, is among the first to rigorously compare the climate record of the deep past with long-term projections of today’s warming climate. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Modeling nutrient loss from Midwestern crop fields

Using cover crops in between corn and soybean crop production in the Midwest could significantly reduce nitrate load runoff via subsurface drains, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists. This reduction could support national efforts to reduce nitrate loads and protect water quality in the Gulf of Mexico. Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists are using the Root Zone Water Quality Model to assess how using winter rye cover crops in corn–soybean rotations could mitigate nitrate loads in the field-drainage water. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Climate change could expand double cropping in the U.S.

New research by a Stanford team shows that climate change is expanding the amount of U.S. agricultural land that is suitable for harvesting two crops per growing season, a system known as double cropping. The practice offers higher productivity and more income for American farmers, but future yield losses from climate change may still outstrip the gains from double cropping. The study showed that between 1988 and 2012, the area of farmland in the United States on which farmers were able to harvest two crops per year on the same plot of land grew by as much as 28 percent as a result of warmer temperatures and later fall freezes. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ The future of agriculture? Smart farming

The agricultural sector is going to face enormous challenges in order to feed the 9.6 billion by 2050. One way to increase the quality and quantity of agricultural production is using sensing technology to make farms more “intelligent” and more connected through the so-called “precision agriculture” also known as “smart farming.” It’s already happening, as corporations and farm offices collect vast amounts of information. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Climate skeptic’s fossil fuel funding puts spotlight on journal conflict policies

In 2008, a small technical journal received a paper on climate science by Willie Wei-Hock Soon, an aerospace engineer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The study argued that changes in the sun’s radiation output played a major role in influencing shifts in Arctic air temperatures—a view at odds with mainstream climate science, which fingered atmospheric carbon dioxide as a bigger player. However recent reports have  claimed that Soon has received extensive financial support over the past decade from fossil fuel companies and others opposed to government regulation of greenhouse gas emissions—but has not always disclosed those financial links in his technical publications. Read the full article.

International Corner


(TOP) ~ As IPCC chair exits, focus moves to who comes next

The resignation of Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has focused new attention on the question of who will become the next head of the global body. Pachauri, who had led the IPCC since 2002, had announced plans to step down this fall, and officially resigned this week. A new IPCC chair will be elected at that meeting by the panel’s 195 member nations, which nominate candidates. Among the already declared candidates for the job are Swiss climate scientist Thomas Stocker of the University of Bern and Belgian researcher Jean-Pascal van Ypersele of the Catholic University of Louvain. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Ukraine’s science minister aims to mend Soviet-era rift

In recent months, Serhiy Kvit, Ukraine’s education and science minister, has had the stressful task of overseeing the hurried relocation of 25 science-related institutions, including 11 universities, from separatist-controlled enclaves in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, or Donbas. The crisis, which began after Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula last March, has overshadowed ambitious attempts that Kvit is helping orchestrate to reform Ukraine’s higher education and science. The latest move on this front is a draft science law promising sweeping changes, including a new competitive grants body similar to the U.S. National Science Foundation, that’s expected to be introduced into parliament in March or April. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Indian grad students take to streets over miserable pay

Indian postgraduate students have taken to the streets nationwide by the thousands over the past week to protest overdue hikes to government stipends. Unless demands are met soon, protest leaders promise to take more drastic action, such as a attempting a countrywide lab shutdown. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ The fertile roots of Rwanda's green revolution

Less than a decade ago, most Rwandans experienced hunger three months of the year. Now, most of the country is food secure, in part because farmers can access yield-enhancing fertilizers and profitable markets to sell their produce. Today, Rwandans are focusing not only on growing more food, but more nutritious food. Read the full article.

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities


(TOP) ~ Higher Education Challenge Grants Program

Projects supported by the Higher Education Challenge Grants Program will: (1) address a State, regional, national, or international educational need; (2) involve a creative or non-traditional approach toward addressing that need that can serve as a model to others; (3) encourage and facilitate better working relationships in the university science and education community, as well as between universities and the private sector, to enhance program quality and supplement available resources; and (4) result in benefits that will likely transcend the project duration and USDA support. Deadline, March 19. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Call for nominations for regional assessments and global scoping

The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), is a global program intended to strengthen the role of science in decision-making related to the conservation and sustainable management of biodiversity and ecosystem services. IPBES is currently soliciting nominations from a broad community of natural and social scientists to serve on the following IPBES expert groups: 1) expert group to create a set of regional and sub-regional assessments of biodiversity and ecosystem services and 2) expert group for scoping of a global assessment of biodiversity and ecosystem services. Deadline, March 20. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Professional Development Grant Program

NCR-SARE’s Professional Development Program (PDP) provides funds for professional development projects that provide sustainable agriculture training to agricultural professionals and educators in the Cooperative Extension Service (CES), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), other governmental agencies, and educators in the profit and non-profit sector serving the food and fiber system. Projects can be up to three years in duration, and funding level is capped at $75,000 total for each project, but projects requesting less than full amount are encouraged. A special aspect of the 2015 NCR-SARE PDP call for proposals is that up to $450,000 of the total pool of funds is available for projects focused on cover crops and soil health. Proposals on other topics relevant to sustainable agriculture will also be considered for funding. Deadline, April 2. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Agriculture and Natural Resources Science for Climate Variability and Change Challenge Area

This AFRI Challenge Area focuses on the priority to mitigate and adapt to climate variability and change. It supports activities that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase carbon sequestration in agricultural and forest production systems, and prepare the nation's agriculture and forests to adapt to variable climates. The long-term outcome for this program is to reduce the use of energy, nitrogen fertilizer, and water by ten percent and increase carbon sequestration by fifteen percent through resilient agriculture and forest production systems. In order to achieve this outcome, this program will support multi-function Integrated Research, Education, and/or Extension Projects and Food and Agricultural Science Enhancement (FASE). Letters of Intent deadline, April 2. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Water for Agriculture Challenge Area

NIFA initiates a new challenge area to address critical water resources issues such as drought, excess soil moisture, flooding, quality and others in an agricultural context. Funding will be used to develop management practices, technologies, and tools for farmers, ranchers, forest owners and managers, public decision makers, public and private managers, and citizens to improve water resource quantity and quality. NIFA's approach will link social, economic, and behavioral sciences with traditional biophysical sciences and engineering to address regional-scale issues with shared hydrological processes and meteorological and basin characteristics. Letters of Intent deadline, April 9. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Agriculture and Food Research Initiative - Foundational Program

The AFRI Foundational Program is offered to support research grants in the six AFRI priority areas to continue building a foundation of knowledge critical for solving current and future societal challenges. The six priority areas are: Plant Health and Production and Plant Products; Animal Health and Production and Animal Products; Food Safety, Nutrition, and Health; Renewable Energy, Natural Resources, and Environment; Agriculture Systems and Technology; and Agriculture Economics and Rural Communities. Single-function Research Projects, multi-function Integrated Projects and Food and Agricultural Science Enhancement (FASE) Grants are expected to address one of the Program Area Priorities. Each program has its own deadline, most are in April. Read the full announcement for more details.


(TOP) ~ Food Safety Challenge Area

This AFRI Challenge Area promotes and enhances the scientific discipline of food safety, with an overall aim of protecting consumers from microbial and chemical contaminants that may occur during all stages of the food chain, from production to consumption. This requires an understanding of the interdependencies of human, animal, and ecosystem health as it pertains to foodborne pathogens. The long-term outcome for this program is to reduce foodborne illnesses and deaths by improving the safety of the food supply, which will result in reduced impacts on public health and on our economy. In order to achieve this outcome, this program will support single-function Research Projects and multi-function Integrated Research, Education, and/or Extension Projects, and Food and Agricultural Science Enhancement (FASE) Grants that address one of the Program Area Priorities. Deadline, May 18 for "Enhancing Food Safety through Improved Processing Technologies" and deadline, May 13, for "Effective Mitigation Strategies for Antimicrobial Resistance." Read the full announcement.

Sources: USDA; FDA; AAAS; ScienceInsider; The Guardian; The National Journal; The Progressive Farmer; Politico; The New York Times; Nature; The Des Moines Register; Stanford, FSE News; Forbes; UK 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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