May, 2020

    June 11, 2020


    Update on Impact of COVID-19
    Congressional focus has been on COVID-19 and actions related to the pandemic. In a recent meeting of the House Agriculture Committee, staff indicated that more oversight is needed on the use of newly authorized funds for recovery and more clarity is required on funding needs going forward. This clarity is needed before the FY21 budget can really move.

    In partial response to this from the agricultural research side, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) surveyed administrators of land-grant universities (LGU). They found that, relative to COVID-19,

    • 65% of LGUs reported that over 60% of their research portfolio was affected,
    • 90% of LGUs reported that over 40% of their research portfolio was affected,
    • 67% of LGUs need at least 6 months of National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) support for research efforts to recover, and
    • 93% of LGUs need at least 4 months of NIFA support for research efforts to recover.

    Major costs associated with both the shutdown and the restarting of research projects account for the funding needs. These needs were not addressed in initial COVID-19 recovery packages. FASS has raised this issue and will join others in the research community in advocating for funding in future packages. It was noted that $300M was included in the House version of the HEROES Act (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act) that would go to the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) to assist with added expenses associated with human testing they have been asked to do. Although this bill passed the House, it is still awaiting action in the Senate.

    Agricultural Genome to Phenome Initiative
    FASS has advocated for the "Agricultural Genome to Phenome Initiative," for the inclusion of animals in it, and funding for it. That advocacy has been effective, as indicated by the recent notice from NIFA:

    "NIFA's Agricultural Genome to Phenome Initiative (AG2PI) focuses on collaborative science engagement inviting innovative research proposals that will lay the foundation for expanding knowledge concerning genomes and phenomes of crops and animals of importance to the agriculture sector of the United States. AG2PI supports multiple goals within the USDA's Science Blueprint, Innovation Agenda, the Genome to Phenome: USDA Blueprint for Animal Genomics Research, and relevant publicly initiated led crop research initiatives that generate societal and environmental benefits. For more information read the AG2PI funding opportunity."

    NCFAR Board Update
    The NCFAR board met by video conference on May 26, 2020. Ken Olson, FASS science policy coordinator, was reelected to a three-year term on the board. He also serves on their Research Outreach Committee. The first virtual "Lunch and Learn" event was held. These Hill seminars are an effective way to reach congressional staff with information about the importance of agricultural research. From the technical side, the virtual event worked well, but attendance was low. Additional virtual sessions are planned but will be evaluated and reassessed for continuation and future use.

    USDA Requests Input on Agriculture Innovation Agenda
    USDA has established their Agriculture Innovation Agenda (AIA). The overall goal is to increase agricultural production by 40% while cutting the environmental footprint of agriculture in half by 2050. In a presentation to NCFAR, Deputy Under Secretary Scott Hutchins, who leads the USDA Research, Education, and Economics mission area, provided an overview of the AIA and invited input as it begins to move forward. He outlined four components to the agenda:

    • Research - Develop a research and innovation strategy that aligns public and private sector research.
    • Programs - Integrate innovative technologies into USDA programs to help fast-track adoption by producers.
    • Metrics - Review USDA productivity and conservation metrics; identify gaps.
    • Scorecard - Measure ag productivity, forest management, food loss and waste, carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas, water quality, renewable energy.

    As part of the first component, USDA has published in the Federal Register a Request for Input (RFI) from stakeholders. It states that they are seeking "comments and suggestions on objectives and opportunities leading to research goals and informed product goals to facilitate transformative breakthroughs to enable U.S. agriculture to meet the Department's goal of increasing agricultural production by 40 percent to meet the needs of the global population in 2050 while cutting the environmental footprint of U.S. agriculture in half."

    Using the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine's report, "Science Breakthroughs to Advance Food and Agricultural Research by 2030," they identified four innovation clusters to align and synchronize public and private sector innovation:

    • Genome design
    • Digital and automation
    • Prescriptive intervention
    • Systems-based management

    Rather than holding hearings or workshops, the USDA is asking groups to respond to the following questions and provide results to USDA by August 1, 2020:

    For your commodity/customer base, the most enabling opportunities to address in the next 5-10 years include

    • Genome design,
    • Digital information and automation,
    • Prescriptive intervention, and
    • Systems-based whole-farm management.

    For your commodity/customer base, the most compelling transformative opportunities to solve in the 10- to 30-year time frame include

    • Genome design,
    • Digital information and automation,
    • Prescriptive intervention, and
    • Systems-based whole-farm management.

    Note any specific regulatory frameworks required to enable solutions.

    The Endless Frontier Act
    The Endless Frontier Act (S. 3832 and H.R. 6978), a bipartisan bill introduced by Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senator Todd Young (R-IN), Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA), and Representative Mike Gallagher (R-WI), would create a new technology directorate at the National Science Foundation (NSF) with a budget that could grow to $35B by 2024—more than four times the agency's existing $8B budget. That would bring NSF to rough parity with the National Institutes of Health, whose $41B budget makes it by far the government's biggest funder of basic research. The stated aim of the new directorate is to support fundamental scientific research, with specific goals in mind, rather than solving incremental technical problems. The bill would also encourage universities to experiment with new ways to accelerate the process of bringing innovative ideas to the marketplace, either via established companies or startups.

    The text of the Endless Frontier Act bill can be found here and a summary can be found here. It is unlikely to move in this session of Congress, but the fact that Senator Schumer is a lead sponsor gives it future potential.

    FASS Science Policy Committee Meets
    The FASS Science Policy Committee (SPC) met on June 3, 2020. Three new members were selected to serve on the SPC: Alberto Torres, David Casper, and Joseph McFadden. We appreciate the service of Shawn Archibeque and Mike Brouk, who served six years on the committee. In other business, two science policy statements were approved for submission to the FASS Board. They are "Labeling of Foods Made from Genetically Engineered (GE) Organisms" and "Regulation of Genome Edited Animals." Because the ADSA Annual Meeting was switched to a virtual format, the SPC Symposium was canceled. The SPC will request that a similar symposium be part of the 2021 Annual Meeting. However, we will be part of a virtual display at this year's meeting. The SPC felt it was important to respond to the USDA's request for input on the AIA, so we will work on that and invite input at the meeting.

    Please contact me if you have questions, ideas, or suggestions on any of these issues for the SPC. 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