July, 2010

    August 2, 2010


    House and Senate Mark-up 2011 Agriculture Appropriations

    On June 30th, the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee met to consider the FY 2011 Agriculture Appropriations bill. Funding for research was cut in the bill by $9.892 million from the FY10 levels, but still represented a $33.749 million increase over the President’s budget request. Total funding for the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) was 1% higher than last year at $1.36 billion. The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, NIFA’s flagship competitive grants program received $312 million. This number is shy of the $429 million requested in the President’s budget, but reflects a 19% increase over the FY2010 level. Funding for the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) was down three percent from last year, for a total of $1.2 billion.

    On July 15th, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its version of the 2011 Agriculture Appropriations Bill. The Senate bill includes $2.818 billion for USDA research agencies. This is a decrease of $20 million below the fiscal year 2010 enacted level, and $24 million above the President's request. NIFA was funded at $1.31 billion, with $310 million going to AFRI. ARS received $1.251 billion.

    The closeness in numbers for AFRI between the House and Senate bills gives a good indication of about how much funding will be allocated to AFRI in 2011 (between $310 and $312 million – up from $262 million in 2010). However, with the fiscal year ending on September 30th, and the upcoming mid-term Congressional elections, it is not likely that the 2011 Agriculture Appropriations bill will be completed before November. Expect some type of continuing resolution that will run at least until after the November elections.

    FASS Washington Representatives will continue to work with like minded partners such as the AFRI Coalition and the National Coalition for Food and Agriculture Research in support of increases to USDA research programs.

    NIFA Director Roger Beachy Speaks at JAM in Denver

    Director of NIFA, Roger Beachy addressed a standing room only crowd at the recent Joint Annual Meeting in Denver. Dr. Beachly discussed with the group his vision for NIFA, with particular focus on the AFRI program. He spoke about opportunities for the animal sciences to contribute to the challenge areas that have been identified, and talked about the recent changes to the AFRI program.

    Dr. Beachy fielded a number of questions from animal scientists in attendance, resulting in a very spirited discussion. Most of the questions centered around the 2010 AFRI RFAs. Attendees expressed concerns with the challenge areas identified in the latest RFAs, and the fact that many of the solicitations were narrowly focused. It was remarked that the 2010 RFAs did not include sufficient opportunities for the animal sciences and particularly animal production related research. Others stated that there was not enough support for investigator driven projects and fundamental science.

    Dr. Beachy responded by stating that understood there would be concerns with the approach to AFRI, but that limited budgets and the challenge to transform the agency have required making some hard decisions and prioritizing. He did stress that the challenge area RFAs included opportunities for work in the animal sciences, but acknowledged that things were different this year. Dr. Beachy’s background is in fundamental science, and he remarked that he would like to invest more in the basic sciences, should the agency receive budget increases.

    FASS Washington Representatives Participate in JAM

    FASS Washington Representatives Lowell Randel and Walt Smith attended the Joint Annual Meetings in Denver. The FASS Science Policy Committee held a planning session on July 11th to review the past year’s activities and establish a work plan for the coming year. Mary Delany assumed the role as chair of the committee for the coming year. The committee also welcomed the following new members: Karen Plaut (ADSA), Dean Hawkins (ASAS), and Sheila Scheideler (PSA).

    The FASS Science Policy Committee held a town hall meeting to discuss the FASS Science Policy Program. Past Chair Gary Hartnell provided opening remarks and gave his perspective on the first year of the program. 2010 FASS Congressional Fellow Avenel Joseph then spoke about her experiences working for Congressman Ed Markey of Massachusetts. (Congratulations to Avenel on being hired as a full time staffer for the Congressman!) Lowell Randel and Walt Smith discussed the committee’s accomplishments for the first year, as well as some of the hot policy issues being debated in Washington, DC. The session closed with Mary Delany discussing the committee’s new work plan for the coming year.

    House Energy and Commerce Committee Holds Hearing on Antibiotics

    On the heels of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) rollout on guidance for the judicious use of antibiotics, the House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture. This was the third hearing held in the House regarding antibiotic resistance. Witnesses included representatives from FDA, USDA, industry and academia. For a full witness list and testimony, visit the House Energy and Commerce Committee website.

    OMB Issues Memo on Science and Technology

    On July 21, 2010, Peter Orszag, Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and John Holdren, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued a memo to the heads of executive departments and agencies regarding the fiscal year 2012 budget for science and technology. The memo reiterates President Obama’s long term goal that the research and development investment (both private and federal) should reach three percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and stresses the importance of supporting transformational research to address grand challenges.

    Six challenge areas are identified in the memo:

    1. Promoting sustainable economic growth and job creation.
    2. Defeating the most dangerous diseases and achieving better health outcomes for all while reducing healthcare costs.
    3. More toward a clean energy future to reduce dependence on energy imports while curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
    4. Understanding, adapting to, and mitigating the impacts of global climate change.
    5. Managing the competing demands on land, fresh water, and the oceans for the production of food, fiber, biofuels, and ecosystem services based on sustainability and biodiversity.
    6. Developing the technologies to protect our troops, citizens, and national interests.

    Research agencies, including USDA’s NIFA and ARS will consider this guidance as they formulate their budget proposals for fiscal year 2012. The animal sciences can make contributions to many of these challenge areas and it is important that federal agencies recognize the capacity of the animal sciences to make a difference. A full copy of the memo can be found on the OMB website.

    NIFA Director Addresses National Coalition for Food and Agriculture Research

    FASS Washington Representatives participated in a National Coalition for Food and Agriculture Research (National C-FAR) meeting with Roger Beachy on July 29th. Dr. Beachy addressed the coalition regarding the challenge for increasing the investment in agriculture research. He prefaced the meeting by stating that NIFA had engaged in listening sessions, but he wanted to make sure he was reaching out to industry, as well. Dr. Beachy gave the group a brief overview of recent changes to the AFRI program, including the establishment of challenge areas and increased focus on multi-institutional and integrated projects. He expressed the need to better account for how all USDA supported and conducted research is being applied to the challenge areas. To this end, Beachy has reached out to Land Grant University Deans to breakdown the uses of formula funds into the challenge areas. He is also working with the Agriculture Research Service to determine how their programs align with the challenge areas. A report of this accounting is expected by the end of the year.

    Dr. Beachy then explained the process by which NIFA is analyzing the results of the AFRI public meeting and other stakeholder input they have received. All of the comments have been sorted and are currently being examined by the relevant National Program Leaders (NPLs). Each NPL will then draft a report with specific recommendations for how to address the stakeholder comments in their respective program area. These reports will then be used by NIFA leadership to help formulate future requests for applications.

    Dr. Beachy shared some of the major themes that have emerged from the listening process. The first theme deals with the need for more new/single investigator driven projects. NIFA has received many comments stating that the 2010 AFRI RFAs did not allocate sufficient funding to investigator driven science. Beachy attributed some of these criticisms to the current systems for reward and tenure employed by universities. He indicated that is some cases these systems should be reevaluated to determine if they are providing the most effective incentives.

    In response to this criticism, Dr. Beachy has committed to dedicate 30 percent of all AFRI funds toward investigator driven research. The remaining 70 percent will go to fund multi-institutional, integrated projects.

    Another theme that emerged from stakeholders was the concern about using a “forward” funding mechanism for AFRI grants. Given the history of largely flat funding, there is great concern that this funding mechanism may restrict the ability for NIFA to release new RFAs when budgets are not increased. Dr. Beachy acknowledged the risk involved in this funding strategy, but was optimistic that support from stakeholders would persuade Congress to provide increases. He indicated that they would be drafting the 2011 RFAs with a hope for the “best case” funding scenario, and make adjustments if necessary.

    Dr. Beachy also discussed the need to find commonalities in challenge area priorities across species or crops. The goal is to serve the broadest needs possible given budget constraints. This highlights the value in the FASS lead effort to work with the Animal Agriculture Coalition to identify a collective set of research priorities for animal agriculture.

    Preview of Selected Events:

    September 28-30: BIO Livestock Biotech Summit, Sioux Falls, SD
    October 20: FSIS/FDA/CDC public meeting on food safety in Portland