December, 2020

    January 18, 2021


    2020 was a tumultuous year for everyone in many ways. The coronavirus affected lives and ways of life around the world. Although effective vaccines have been developed, control of the disease will still take time. There have been more than 88 million cases and 1.9 million deaths from the virus worldwide, and more than 22 million cases and 370,000 deaths in the United States. This has put significant strain on healthcare workers and facilities and has had major impacts on state and federal budgets. The long-term effects of COVID-19 will depend on the strength and speed of the recovery.

    On the political front, there has been much turmoil as well. The year began with the impeachment hearings and trial of President Trump. It moved into a most unusual campaign year due to the pandemic. An initially crowded presidential field on the Democratic side narrowed relatively quickly to one, with Joe Biden challenging Donald Trump in a bitter contest. Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, had a convincing victory, winning the electoral college 306 to 232 and the popular vote by more than 7 million votes. In Congress, the Democrats held the House but with a smaller majority (222 to 211), with two seats still to be determined. Control of the Senate was finally determined following the run-off elections in Georgia, with both seats being won by Democrats. This leaves a 50-50 tie in the Senate, but the vice president casts the tie-breaking vote when required, meaning that Democrats effectively control the Senate, as well as the House and the presidency. The party in control of the House and Senate selects chairs of the committees in each house and has the majority of the members on each committee. This affects what hearings the committees hold, what legislation they will consider, and the timing of legislation as they move forward. The Senate is responsible for confirmation of more than 350 presidential appointments. Control of the Senate affects how quickly nominees are considered and how likely individual nominees are to be approved. Democratic control of the Senate is expected to allow President Biden to have his appointees approved more quickly and provide a smoother path forward.

    117th Congress
    The 117th Congress convened for the first time on Sunday, January 3, 2021, as lawmakers took their oaths of office. Nancy Pelosi was again elected Speaker of the House. Once Kamala Harris is sworn in as vice president, her appointed successor, Alex Padilla, fills her Senate seat. The new Georgia senators, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, will also be sworn in, at which time the Democrats will control the Senate. This will likely all be in place on January 20 or shortly thereafter. Chuck Schumer will be Senate majority leader. At the present time, most members of Congress are focused on responses to the attack on the Capitol that took place on January 6 and concerns over ongoing threats to the national and state capitols around the time of President Biden's inauguration. The House is in session and is expected to take some action; the Senate is not scheduled to return until January 19, so it is unclear what steps may be taken.

    When Congress does return, there will be new chairs and ranking members of the Agriculture Committees in both houses. David Scott (GA-13) will serve as chair of the House Agriculture Committee. He will be the first African American to serve in this role. Senator Debbie Stabenow (MI), who is currently the ranking member of the Senate Agriculture committee, is expected to become chair when the Democrats take control of the Senate.

    Tom Vilsack, CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, who served as Secretary of Agriculture through both terms of the Obama administration, has been nominated by President-elect Joe Biden for Secretary of Agriculture. He will require Senate confirmation to serve in this position. This is one of several positions within USDA that require Senate action; others are

    • Deputy Secretary of Agriculture
    • Under Secretary of Agriculture for Farm Production and Conservation
    • Under Secretary of Agriculture for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services
    • Under Secretary of Agriculture for Food Safety
    • Under Secretary of Agriculture for Marketing and Regulatory Programs
    • Under Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and Environment
    • Under Secretary of Agriculture for Research, Education, and Economics
    • Under Secretary of Agriculture for Rural Development
    • Under Secretary of Agriculture for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs
    • Assistant Secretary of Agriculture for Congressional Relations
    • Assistant Secretary of Agriculture for Civil Rights
    • General Counsel
    • Chief Financial Officer
    • Inspector General

    USDA Announces Carrie Castille as New Director of NIFA
    On December 22, 2020, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that President Trump had named Carrie Castille to a six-year term as director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Castille officially started her new role on Monday, January 4, 2021.

    Castille holds a PhD in renewable natural resources (with emphasis on environmental and public policy) from Louisiana State University (LSU), an MS degree in environmental studies from LSU, and a BS degree in industrial engineering from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She served as assistant professor and agriculture and natural resource leader at LSU before serving as associate commissioner and senior adviser to the commissioner for the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry. In 2017, she joined the USDA as state director for Louisiana Rural Development, and in 2019 was named as the mid-south (Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri) coordinator for USDA's Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC) mission area. Former and incoming USDA Secretary Vilsack previously appointed Castille to the National Agriculture Research, Extension, Education, and Economics (NAREEE) advisory board from 2010 to 2017. During this period, she served as chair of the NAREEE board.

    National Stakeholder Webinar Listening Sessions
    The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and NIFA will host National Stakeholder Webinar Listening Sessions on January 27 and 28, 2021, from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 pm EST each day. They are conducting an online survey from January 11 to February 11 to gather input on animal production research priorities. The survey asks stakeholders to identify and rank important issues relative to animal production commodities and for input on impacts of current ARS and NIFA programs and the future direction of the research programs. Please provide your input by clicking on this Survey Monkey link and completing the survey.

    The Listening Session webinars (one hour per topic) will include brief presentations from ARS and NIFA followed by discussions co-led by one ARS and one university scientist with expertise on that topic.

    January 27:  
    11 am Animal Genetics, Genomics and Bioinformatics; Larry Kuehn and Holly Niebergs
    12 pm Applications of Biotechnology to Animal Production; Jeffrey Vallet and Alison Van Eenennaam
    1 pm Animal Well-Being, Stress and Production; Jay Johnson and Janice Swanson
    2 pm Animal Reproductive Biology; Tom Geary and Olga Bolden-Tiller
    3 pm Quality, Nutritional Value and Healthfulness of Animal Products; Andy King and Rhonda Miller

    Webinar link for January 27:
    If needed:     Meeting ID: 160 582 5871     Passcode: 074539

    January 28:  
    11 am Sustainable Intensification; Alison Duff and Stephanie Hansen
    12 pm Animal Growth Biology; Brian Kerr and Tom Porter
    1 pm Antimicrobial Resistance and Alternatives to Antimicrobials for Growth Promotion; Jeff Carroll and Amelia Woolums
    2 pm Reducing Environmental Impacts of Animal Production; Stacey Gunter and Ermias Kebreab
    3 pm Lactation Biology and Nutritional Efficiency of Animals, Including Forage Use; Katie Summers and Jeff Firkins

    Webinar link for January 28:
    If needed:     Meeting ID: 160 917 9839     Passcode: 286258

    USDA Releases Innovation Strategy Directional Vision for Research summary and dashboard
    As administrations prepare to change on January 20, the USDA released its U.S. Agriculture Innovation Strategy Directional Vision for Research summary and dashboard. The documents were designed to help guide future research decisions within USDA. The strategy synthesizes the information that USDA collected as part of a public announcement earlier in 2020 engaging the public on research priorities under the Agriculture Innovation Agenda (AIA). It is unclear how they will be used by the new administration.

    FASS Science Policy Committee
    During the past year, the FASS Science Policy Committee (SPC) joined in a range of coalition letters in support of agricultural research and funding for research. You can check out the letters here: The SPC also develops and updates science policy statements on a number of areas important to animal agriculture. Current statements are available here: Please contact me if you have questions, ideas, or suggestions on any of these issues. We will provide additional information as it becomes available. We need to work together to maintain a strong and effective national research effort.

    If you are interested in communicating occasionally with members of Congress on issues related to animal agriculture, we are looking for FASS science policy advocates. Please contact me for details.

    Ken Olson, PhD, PAS
    FASS Science Policy Coordinator