August 5, 2014
On July 23rd, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced the initial members of the Board of Directors for the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR). Authorized by Congress as part of the 2014 Farm Bill, the foundation will operate as a non-profit corporation seeking and accepting private donations in order to fund research activities that focus on problems of national and international significance. Congress also provided $200 million for the foundation which must be matched by non-federal funds as the Foundation identifies and approves projects.
The Farm Bill directed USDA and the National Academies of Science to develop lists of nominees for the board. The Farm Bill also named five ex-officio members and tasked them with making the selection of the initial board members. The ex-officio members named in the Farm Bill are:
- The Honorable Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture
- Dr. Catherine Woteki, USDA's Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics and Chief Scientist
- Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young, Administrator of the USDA's Agricultural Research Service
- Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy, Director of the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture
- Dr. France A. Córdova, Director of the National Science Foundation.
The initial members of the FFAR board will be:
- Dr. Kathryn Boor - the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell University
- Dr. Douglas Buhler - Director of AgBioResearch and Senior Associate Dean for Research for the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Michigan State University
- Dr. Nancy Creamer - Distinguished Professor of Sustainable Agriculture and Community Based Food Systems, North Carolina State University
- Dr. Deborah Delmer - Professor Emeritus of Biology, University of California-Davis
- The Honorable Dan Glickman - former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, current Executive Director of the Aspen Institute's Congressional Program
- Dr. Robert Horsch - Deputy Director, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
- Pamela Johnson - Chairwoman, National Corn Growers Association
- Dr. Mark E. Keenum - President, Mississippi State University
- Dr. Michael Ladisch - Director of the Laboratory of Renewable Resources Engineering and Distinguished Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Purdue University
- Dr. Christopher Mallett - Vice President of Research & Development, Cargill, Inc.
- Dr. Pamela Matson - Chester Naramore Dean of the School of Earth Sciences, the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Professor of Environmental Studies and Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University
- Dr. Terry McElwain - Associate Director and Professor, Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health, and Executive Director, Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, Washington State University
- Dr. Stanley Prusiner - Director of the Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases and Professor of Neurology, University of California-San Francisco and 1997 Nobel laureate in physiology or medicine
- Dr. Yehia "Mo" Saif - Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University
- Dr. Barbara Schaal - Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences and Mary-Dell Chilton Distinguished Professor at Washington University in St. Louis.
Biographies of the board members can be found by clicking here. Of the 15 board members, at least five of them have significant experience with animal science, which will be important to ensure that the animal sciences have a voice as the board sets up the operating structure for the foundation and funding decisions are ultimately made. It is expected that the newly appointed board will hold its first meeting in the next few weeks.
FASS Washington Representatives Lowell Randel and Walt Smith participated in the ASAS/ADSA Joint Annual Meeting in Kansas City. Lowell and Walt gave presentations to the ADSA Board and the ASAS Board updating them on current policy issues impacting the animal sciences and ongoing FASS Science Policy activities. They also spoke during the ASAS Business Meeting and spent time in the FASS Expo Booth meeting with society members and discussion science policy issues.
NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy addressed participants at the ASAS/ADSA Joint Annual Meeting via video conference on Wednesday, July 23rd. Dr. Ramaswamy updated members about the current budget situation for the agency and stated that the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill was a positive step forward. He recognized the efforts of FASS in helping tell the story about the importance of federal funding for agriculture research and reiterated his commitment to funding for the animal sciences and addressing past funding discrepancies. He mentioned that NIFA is working on a new report breaking down recent AFRI funding and noted that the animal sciences should be encouraged by the findings.
Ramaswamy also reported that he has taken action on a number of issues that ADSA and ASAS society members raised when he spoke at JAM in 2012. He cited examples including:
- Increasing student resources
- Increased funding for the Educational Literacy project
- Roll out of program for research and extension experiences for undergraduates
- “Blue Sky” project funds that enable researchers to work with National Program Leaders through a simplified process to fund exploratory research ideas
- Increase critical research in production agriculture, with a new RFA (due in August)
- New Water for Agriculture Challenge Area RFA was developed after input and comments from about 10,000 people.
He closed by encouraging society members to continue “telling their story” about the importance and value of animal science research and engaging with NIFA with ideas and input to strengthen programs for the future.
The National Academies of Science committee conducting the study on considerations for the future of animal science research held its third meeting in early July. The committee’s first two meetings included public sessions where it heard from various speakers about issues impacting animal science. The third meeting was closed to the public and focused on the next steps for drafting its report. The committee is working to complete the report before the end of calendar year 2014.
FASS, ADSA and ASAS joined 70 science and engineering organizations, collectively representing hundreds of thousands of U.S. scientists and engineers sent a letter to the leaders of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee regarding an amendment to S. 1347, the Conference Accountability Act, that would further restrict federal scientists from participating in scientific meetings. The letter expresses concerns about the unintended negative consequences of restrictions on conference participation and travel for federal and contractor employees who are also scientists and engineers.
The issue of federal participation in conferences has been a hot topic since issues were raised about policies and expenses related to such travel. The proposed Coburn-Heitkamp substitute amendment to S. 1347---strengthens the Administration’s existing barriers to conference participation, which are already harming the scientific enterprise and national competitiveness. While the amendment was adopted by the committee by voice vote on July 30th, the strong showing of concern by the 70 organizations will be helpful in articulating the problems with the language as the bill continues to move through the legislative process.