June 2023


    June 26, 2023

    Xochitl Torres Small Confirmed as Deputy Secretary of USDA
    The Senate, on July 11, voted 84-8 to confirm Xochitl Torres Small as deputy secretary of the Agriculture Department. In that position she will act as chief operating officer for the department and be responsible for strategic planning.

    Torres Small became USDA undersecretary for rural development in late 2021, and prior to that served in the House, representing a largely rural New Mexico district. She was a water rights lawyer before she entered the 116th Congress and grew up in southwestern New Mexico as the daughter of educators and the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who were farmworkers.

    In a release on the nomination Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), chair of the US Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, said, "As Under Secretary, Ms. Torres Small proved herself to be a staunch advocate for our rural communities. It was through her leadership that USDA Rural Development secured $2 billion to support rural broadband through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, making USDA the first federal agency to invest these funds in physical infrastructure for high-speed internet."

    Looking Ahead
    Deadlines for the FY24 budget and the Farm Bill are fast approaching. Action is needed on both by September 30, but with the August recess coming there are few actual days left in which to legislate. The Farm Bill always addresses a wide range of issues beyond traditional farm programs. Some of the major concerns expressed relative to the upcoming bill include ensuring a safe and secure food supply, and addressing climate change, sustainability, and competitiveness. Research is critical to addressing each of these issues, so we need to continue to advocate for research to be a significant component in all parts of the bill. The following news items relate to and provide some background on issues likely to be addressed in the Farm Bill. Visit the FASS Science Policy area for the current coalition letter and other advocacy actions we are taking.

    USDA Unveils New Tool to Track Federally Funded Investments
    USDA has released two new data dashboards that allow users the unprecedented ability to access high-level data about NIFA's agricultural research funding investments and track the status of their grant applications.

    USDA stakeholders and partners, members of the media, and the public can now immediately access, download, and save data on all NIFA competitive and capacity funds granted since fiscal year 2018. This tool offers users the ability to pull information on funding investments by research program and grant type, congressional district, recipient (including land-grant, minority-serving institutions, tribal, Hispanic-serving institutions, and Extension), and other focused searches.

    The NIFA Grant Funding Dashboard allows users to search for information related to requirements, waivers, and the amount of match funding provided by recipient type and award. Users can also explore a funding map to find NIFA funding obligations by states and congressional districts. The NIFA Application Status Dashboard enables users to quickly check the status of their application using their assigned Grants.gov tracking number.

    Learn more about these new tools. (Source: NIFA Update, June 28, 2023.)

    Addressing Antimicrobial Resistance
    The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) recently announced 12 awards totaling more than $3.2 million in cooperative agreement funding to create antimicrobial resistance dashboards. These awards will help advance scientific knowledge around antimicrobial resistance through partnerships with the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, Cornell University, Iowa State University, University of Florida, North Carolina State University, Texas Tech University, University of Illinois, University of Missouri, and University of Washington.

    These public-private partnerships will improve access to information on antimicrobial resistance in domesticated animals, including livestock, poultry, and companion animals. They will focus on

    • Developing antimicrobial resistance dashboards to securely track the emergence and spread of antimicrobial-resistant microbes in domesticated animals.
    • Identifying and developing methods for protecting data confidentiality with these dashboards.
    • Identifying data user needs and preferences for antimicrobial resistance dashboards.
    • Exploring aspects of data management for antimicrobial resistance dashboards.

    The dashboard development efforts complement the ongoing work by APHIS on antimicrobial resistance. The APHIS National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) collects and evaluates information voluntarily provided by US farmers and ranchers to better understand antimicrobial use in the context of overall animal health, while partner laboratories in the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) look for antimicrobial resistance, supporting the work of APHIS to monitor for trends and identify new or emerging resistance profiles, assess the continued usefulness of antibiotics over time, and provide actionable guidance to veterinarians, producers, and other stakeholders.

    Concentration and Competition in US Agribusiness
    The USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) recently released a report, authored by James M. MacDonald, Xiao Dong, and Keith Fuglie, that details issues surrounding market concentration in agribusiness. It is focused on three agribusiness sectors where concentration has increased over time: seeds, meatpacking, and food retail. Market concentration and its impact on competition have attracted growing public scrutiny and are issues of concern for the Farm Bill. Critics argue that many industries have grown too concentrated, with fewer firms competing with one another and a consequent weakening of competition. The report covers the consolidation in each of these industries, explains the driving forces behind increased concentration, and examines public policies aimed at encouraging competition, focusing on the implementation of merger policy.

    Click here for a summary or here for the full report.

    USDA to Invest $300M to Boost GHG Monitoring
    USDA is committing $300 million to improve the measurement, monitoring, reporting, and verification of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and carbon sequestering in the areas of agriculture and forestry. In announcing the program, USDA said the new investments in research come from the federal government's Investing in America agenda and the Inflation Reduction Act, which has provided nearly $20 billion to advance climate-smart agriculture and forestry practices. This is another example of research funding for agriculture being supported more broadly than in just the Farm Bill and a reminder that it is important for animal scientists to be involved in the process and look for new opportunities. (Read more)

    Celebrating the 160th Anniversary of the Morrill Act
    Most readers of this newsletter likely have a direct link to the land-grant university system. Did you know that 160 years ago on July 2, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed one of the most important pieces of federal legislation in the history of American higher education and an "enduring legacy of his presidency"--the Morrill Land Grant College Act? You can read a bit more about it at https://www.nifa.usda.gov/about-nifa/blogs/celebrate-160th-anniversary-morrill-act. Funding for the land grants is a significant part of the budget and the Farm Bill.

    National Academy of Sciences Professional Development Opportunity
    The National Academies is seeking applicants for its New Voices program. Voices in Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine is a cohort-based leadership program that promotes collaboration among outstanding early- and midcareer scientists, engineers, and medical professionals during a two-year term of service. The program aims to expand the diversity of expertise engaged in the convening and advisory functions of the National Academies while building a network of emerging US leaders to address national and global challenges. The program that began in 2018 has brought fresh perspectives to the National Academies' work from underrepresented age ranges, geographies, career stages, races and ethnicities, and professional sectors. They are seeking US-based emerging leaders in all disciplines of science, engineering, and medicine who have an established track record of professional excellence and demonstrated commitment to service beyond their immediate discipline and institution. Click here for application information.

    Application Deadline: August 10, 2023, 11:59 p.m.

    Contact the National Academy of Sciences at newvoices@nas.edu with questions or for further information.

    FASS Science Policy Committee
    Members of the FASS Science Policy Committee were at the recent ADSA Annual Meeting sharing information about the committee and inviting participation by attendees in the committee and other policy activities. We spoke with members in seminars, meetings, and at the FASS booth. Among the information shared were the following talking points that may be used by all in advocating for research:

    • Past innovations have increased food production by 300% since the 1940s.
    • According to USDA, every $1 invested in public agricultural R&D from 1900-2011 generated on average $20 in benefits to the US economy.
    • Today, gains in productivity are in deep decline, putting at risk global food security. Declining R&D investment is directly tied to declining productivity.
    • Crumbling research facilities and equipment is driving top-tier talent to better-funded disciplines. The number of agricultural scientists has dropped by nearly 30% since the early 2000s.
    • The food and agriculture industry contributes more than $1 trillion to the US GDP and accounts for 21 million jobs. Robust funding is critical to maintaining our trade competitiveness.
    • The Farm Bill is our opportunity to secure critical funding to build resilience in our food system before it is too late.

    We are looking for research advocates to join the committee. The committee meets via Zoom. The group continues to make progress on reviewing and updating existing FASS Science Policy Statements, identifying and developing additional policy statements as needed, and joining coalition efforts and planning activities to advance animal agriculture research funding, while encouraging the use of sound science in decision-making.

    Committee terms are for three years with an opportunity to renew for an additional term. We are also looking for FASS science policy advocates who will get to know and communicate occasionally with their members of Congress on issues related to animal agriculture.

    Please contact me if you have questions, ideas, or suggestions on any of these or other policy issues. We will provide additional information on these and other emerging issues as it becomes available. We need to work together to maintain a strong and effective national research effort.

    Ken Olson, PhD, PAS
    FASS Science Policy Coordinator