NIFA Biotechnology Grants Put Science at Center of Food Safety Policy

The science of agriculture grows more complex every year. Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced support for projects to help bridge the gap between biotechnology innovations and the policies on how to use them. These grants are funded through NIFA’s Biotechnology Risk Assessment Research Grants (BRAG) Program.

“Biotechnology offers innovative tools to address the problem of ensuring a safe, nutritious food supply,” said NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy. “It is imperative that we help policymakers understand these tools and base their policy decisions on high-quality science and evidence.”

Established in 1992, the Biotechnology Risk Assessment Research Grant (BRAG) program supports research to help evaluate hazard potential and other effects of genetically engineered (GE) organisms. The program also supports conferences that bring together scientists, regulators, and other stakeholders to discuss topics related to biotechnology and assessments of risk. Projects are supported in several program areas including: management practices to minimize environmental risk of GE organisms; methods to monitor, and understand the dispersal of GE organisms; gene transfer to domesticated and wild relatives; and environmental impacts of genetic engineering in agricultural production systems.

Among projects funded in Fiscal Year 2017, Cornell University researchers will investigate whether genetically engineered probiotics – often used as alternatives to antibiotics – may spread from an animal’s microbiome into their environment. Oregon State University researchers will conduct greenhouse and field tests of CRISPR gene-edited poplar and eucalyptus trees to evaluate the ecological concerns that may pose barriers to their commercial adoption.

In all, 13 grants totaling nearly $5.4 million are being awarded through the BRAG program. They are:
• Infinite Eversole Strategic Drop Services, Jonesboro, Arkansas, $25,000
• University of California, Davis, California, $500,000
• University of California, Davis, California, $25,000
• USDA-ARS, Western Regional Research Center, Albany, California, $500,000
• Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, $500,000
• University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky, $500,000
• Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri, $469,277
• University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska, $499,998
• Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, $500,000
• Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, Ithaca, New York, $380,830
• Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, $500,000
• Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, $499,422
• Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, $496,361

More information on these grants can be found on the NIFA website.

Among previous BRAG projects, University of Tennessee researchers measured armyworm resistance to corn and cotton crops bred to include an insecticidal bacteria that occurs naturally in soil. The research has resulted in new monitoring methods to help farmers detect, monitor, and predict the movement of these pests. Another project at North Carolina State University looked at ways to stop the northward spread of screwworm from South America. During the past century, the presence of screwworm cost the U.S. livestock industry an average of $20 million annually. As a result, the team developed and evaluated a sterile male screwworm strain to help manage the buffer zone along the Panama-Colombia border.

USDA Provides Support for Hurricane-Impacted Dairies in Puerto Rico

In the wake of the 2017 hurricanes, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is providing emergency assistance to dairy operators in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. USDA is preparing for signup to begin Oct. 21, 2017.

“We’re dispatching additional USDA staff to the island, but we also continue to ramp up material assistance as well,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. “Dairy producers need help immediately, and the Trump Administration is providing it.”

Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico’s agriculture sector, including dairy operations.  Secretary Perdue said the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) is providing up to $12 million dollars to enable operators of Puerto Rico’s 253 licensed dairy operations to purchase feed for cattle. The special initiative, applicable only to Puerto Rico, is called the Dairy Assistance Program for Puerto Rico (DAP-PR). The program will be administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA), which has offices and staff on the island.

“Dairy operations face additional losses unless they have feed for their remaining cattle,” said Perdue. “This funding will enable them to get the help they need until the situation in Puerto Rico stabilizes.”

Under the provisions of today’s announcement, dairy operators can apply to FSA to receive vouchers to purchase an estimated one-month supply of feed.  The amount of the voucher is calculated based on 100 percent of estimated feed costs per cow for 30 days. There are an estimated 94,000 dairy cows on the island.

The CCC Charter Act includes authority for the corporation to make available materials and facilities required in connection with the production and marketing of agricultural commodities (except tobacco). The DAP-PR is a one-time initiative, designed to quickly provide disaster relief to assist in the production and marketing of dairy in Puerto Rico.

FSA will issue vouchers to licensed dairy applicants who may exchange the vouchers for feed at local dealers. If funding remains available at the end of the application period, FSA may provide assistance for additional feed or fuel purchases to further support these dairy operations. All applications must be received no later than Dec. 1, 2017.

For more information about how to apply, call the USDA Puerto Rico disaster assistance hotline for agricultural producers at 1-787-303-0341, visit your local FSA office, or go to

The October Southern Region IPM News has been Published

Southern Region IPM News posts a collection of headlines from news sources throughout the Southern Region. Some of the news provided here may also be national, such as notices about upcoming EPA or NIFA webinars or national events that affect this region.

In the 10/18/2017 edition:

APHIS Seeks Comments on Draft Pest Risk Assessments for Mamey Sapote and Sapodilla from Mexico
Fall Pest Management Seminar in Dallas
AgriLife Research project to examine, educate on organic wheat systems
Upcoming Environmental Modeling Public Meeting on Assessing Exposure and Risk to Pollinators & Plants

EPA and States’ Collective Efforts Lead to Regulatory Action on Dicamba

EPA has reached an agreement with Monsanto, BASF and DuPont on measures to further minimize the potential for drift to damage neighboring crops from the use of dicamba formulations used to control weeds in genetically modified cotton and soybeans. New requirements for the use of dicamba “over the top” (application to growing plants) will allow farmers to make informed choices for seed purchases for the 2018 growing season.

“Today’s actions are the result of intensive, collaborative efforts, working side by side with the states and university scientists from across the nation who have first-hand knowledge of the problem and workable solutions,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “Our collective efforts with our state partners ensure we are relying on the best, on-the-ground, information.”

In a series of discussions, EPA worked cooperatively with states, land-grant universities, and the pesticide manufacturers to examine the underlying causes of recent crop damage in the farm belt and southeast. EPA carefully reviewed the available information and developed tangible changes to be implemented during the 2018 growing season. This is an example of cooperative federalism that leads to workable national-level solutions.

Manufacturers have voluntarily agreed to label changes that impose additional requirements for “over the top” use of these products next year including:
• Classifying products as “restricted use,” permitting only certified applicators with special training, and those under their supervision, to apply them; dicamba-specific training for all certified applicators to reinforce proper use;
• Requiring farmers to maintain specific records regarding the use of these products to improve compliance with label restrictions;
• Limiting applications to when maximum wind speeds are below 10 mph (from 15 mph) to reduce potential spray drift;
• Reducing the times during the day when applications can occur;
• Including tank clean-out language to prevent cross contamination; and
• Enhancing susceptible crop language and record keeping with sensitive crop registries to increase awareness of risk to especially sensitive crops nearby.
Manufacturers have agreed to a process to get the revised labels into the hands of farmers in time for the 2018 use season. EPA will monitor the success of these changes to help inform our decision whether to allow the continued “over the top” use of dicamba beyond the 2018 growing season. When EPA registered these products, it set the registrations to expire in 2 years to allow EPA to change the registration, if necessary.

For more information:

Corn Growers and Environmental Advocates find ways to work together!

The idea that the National Corn Growers Association would fall in line with the Environmental Defense Fund views seems far-fetched. However, when it comes to soil health, Chris Novak says the two organizations have a common purpose.

Novak, CEO of the National Corn Growers Association, says the time has come for farmers and ranchers to have open dialogues with environmental advocates regarding climate change, soil health and sustainability. “We can fight things out in the courts, we can fight things out in Congress — or we can buckle down, sit down at the table together and talk together about the opportunity for voluntary solution, and we can make real progress for our land and farms at the same time,” he says.

Suzy Friedman, senior director of agricultural sustainability for EDF, says that it has been a tough year for agriculture in the environmental arena. “From negative water quality reports that have pointed the finger at agriculture to the largest hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico on record,” she says, “it makes it more important that we talk about finding ways that collaboration can move the ball forward on solving environmental challenges and having a vibrant agriculture sector.”

So the two organizations forged an unlikely partnership in the areas of soil health, conservation and public perception.

Digging deep
More than three years ago, the NCGA created the Soil Health Partnership. The partnership, a farmer-led initiative, looks at farm management practices that enhance sustainability and farm profitability. It is made up of working farmers from 10 states.

Companies like Monsanto and General Mills were onboard, along with the Walton Family Foundation, the Midwest Row Crop Collaborative and the USDA. However, Novak says his group knew it needed advisers in the environmental community weighing in on the how these practices impact the environment. He reached out to EDF and The Nature Conservancy.

What Novak found was that “when you take the time to sit at the table together, when you can find common purpose, common goal, common interest and get to know people, then you find win-win solutions.”

Both Novak and Friedman want those changes to be voluntary, starting at the farmer level.

Making conservation choices
For Novak, farmers working toward sustainability hits home. He grew up on a small 120-acre farm in eastern Iowa, where his dad ran cattle, raised hogs and planted alfalfa, oats, hay, corn and soybeans.

“As I think about voluntary conservation efforts, I think about my dad and the farm I grew up on,” he says.

Novak noted that at some juncture, cattle left the farm. When the cattle left, there was no need for alfalfa, so it, too, exited the operation. The hogs stayed until Novak attended college — when access to hog processing plants became limited, and the family left the hog industry.

“His choices were driven by his reality — his economic reality and the environment around him,” Novak says.

His father migrated to the typical corn and soybean rotation, but that also posed some problems.

The piece of land was hilly, and keeping the nutrients and water on the crop became a problem. “So once again, my father adapted to change,” he recalls. His father went to the local Soil and Water Conservation Service to help him draw up new grass waterways, and he put tile into the field to manage the water runoff. “He made the investment in land, conservation and stewardship — not because he had to, but because he knew it was the right thing to do,” Novak adds.

Go to Delta Farm Press for the rest of the story.