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News Article | April 21, 2017
Site: www.washingtonpost.com

In late 2014, a whistleblower scientist rocked the Agriculture Department with a charge that it retaliated against him because his research found that a popular and lucrative farm pesticide might harm pollinators such as bees. The issue died down when the scientist, Jonathan Lundgren, withdrew his case to contemplate whether to make it broader, and because his superiors continued to penalize him for infractions that other scientists committed without discipline. Now a recent survey of the Agriculture Department’s scientists by the agency’s inspector general has brought it back to the forefront. According to the survey’s findings, nearly 10 percent said their research has been tampered with or altered by superiors “for reasons other than technical merit,” possibly because of political considerations. [Was a USDA scientist muzzled because of his bee research?] Questions were submitted by the inspector general to more than 2,000 scientists in four branches of the department — the Agricultural Research Service, Forest Service, Economic Research Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service. The intent was to gauge their understanding of its Scientific Integrity Policy, which allowed them to complain if they felt their work was compromised. Nearly 40 percent didn’t bother to take the survey, according to findings released April 13. Of those who did, more than half said they didn’t know how to file a complaint and some said they didn’t do so because they feared retaliation. “You do not need to have many cases to create a strong chilling effect, and the current science climate inside USDA is quite nippy,” said Jeff Ruch, executive director of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which represented Lundgren. The USDA has said it doesn’t retaliate against any employee, and disputed Lundgren’s claim that he was targeted to suppress his science. Lundgren had been with the agency 11 years, ran his own lab with a staff and wrote a well-regarded book on predator insects, but his career began to fall apart when he published research that cautioned against the use of pesticides approved by the agency. In a Washington Post Magazine story about his case, Lundgren said he thought his downfall started in 2012 when he published findings in the Journal of Pest Science indicating that a popular class of pesticides, neonicotinoids, don’t improve soybean yields. He followed that the next year with a paper that said a new pest treatment called RNAi pesticides should trigger a new means of risk assessment. After the research drew national interest and a report on NPR, Lundgren said he was hauled into the office of a superior who told him for the first time that he shouldn’t talk to the media. After speaking to another news outlet about another research paper months later, Lundgren was suspended for unruly office behavior when he pretended to hump a chair. [A whistleblower withdrew his complaint against the USDA — to make it even stronger] Later he was docked for filing an unsigned travel request and rushing off to an event. Other Agriculture Department scientists contacted by The Washington Post said they had done worse, such as not filing a travel request at all, and not faced a penalty. In the survey, 85 percent of the 1,300 scientists who responded said the Scientific Integrity Policy established to protect their work didn’t benefit them, or offered no opinion. Nearly 20 percent said they didn’t know the policy existed. A few scientists submitted unflattering comments about the agency’s attempt at integrity. “The SIP is kind of a nicety with no real meaning,” one said. “It has done nothing about the lack of scientific integrity exhibited by my station director,” another said. The SIP seems “designed to protect the agency only, not a code for individual scientists interacting with other scientists,” yet another said. The comments were anonymous. “Nothing has really changed,” another comment said, “because the SIP still provides managers with the ability to stop communication of anything they want. The wording has changed and sounds better, but reality has not changed.” Other scientists saw the policy in a more positive light. “My agency was doing a fairly good job already. My work was not directly changed by SIP. However, SIP is indirectly beneficial in supporting a climate of scientific integrity.” Another said: “The policy makes it clear that as a senior scientist, I am speaking from the facts of science and not opinion.”


News Article | December 6, 2016
Site: www.eurekalert.org

Cornell University researchers have discovered a biological mechanism that helps convert nitrogen-based fertilizer into nitrous oxide, an ozone-depleting greenhouse gas. The paper was published online Nov. 17 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "The first key to plugging a leak is finding the leak," said Kyle Lancaster, assistant professor of chemistry and chemical biology, and senior author on the research. "We now know the key to the leak and what's leading to it. Nitrous oxide is becoming quite significant in the atmosphere, as there has been a 120 percent increase of nitrous oxide in our atmosphere since pre-industrial times." Lancaster, along with postdoctoral researcher Jonathan D. Caranto and chemistry doctoral candidate Avery C. Vilbert, showed that an enzyme made by the ammonia oxidizing bacterium Nitrosomonas europaea, cytochrome P460, produces nitrous oxide after the organism turns ammonia into an intermediate metabolite called hydroxylamine. N. europaea and similar "ammonia-oxidizing bacteria" use hydroxylamine as their fuel source, but too much hydroxylamine can be harmful -- and the resulting production of nitrous oxide is a chemical coping strategy. Lancaster and his colleagues hypothesize that when ammonia-oxidizing bacteria are exposed to high levels of nitrogen compounds, such as in crop fields or wastewater treatment plants, then nitrous oxide production via cytochrome P460 will ramp up. In the atmosphere, greenhouse gases are a soup of many species, and Lancaster explained that nitrous oxide has 300 times the potency of carbon dioxide. "That's a staggering number," he said. "Nitrous oxide is a really nasty agent to be releasing on a global scale." Lancaster added that nitrous oxide is photochemically reactive and can form free radicals - ozone-depleting agents - which aggravates the issue of blanketing Earth's atmosphere with more gas and raising the globe's temperature. "In addition to its role as a greenhouse gas cloak, it's removing our protective shield," Lancaster said. The United States is among the world leaders in importing nitrogen fertilizer, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations noted that the world's nitrogen fertilizer demand was projected to be 116 million tons for this past agricultural season. "For the world, I realize that we are trying to feed more people and that means more fertilizer - and that means more nitrous oxide," said Lancaster, who noted that about 30 percent of nitrous oxide emissions come from agriculture and its accompanying land use. To reduce the negative impact of nitrogen, farmers already use nitrification inhibitors. Said Lancaster: "While it will be challenging to develop ways to stop this process, now we have pinpointed one biochemical step leading to nitrous oxide production. Future work may lead to inhibitors, molecules that can deactivate or neutralize this bacterial enzyme. Alternatively, we may just use this new information to develop better strategies for nitrogen management." The Department of Energy Office of Science and the National Institutes of Health supported the research.


News Article | November 21, 2016
Site: www.rdmag.com

Cornell researchers have discovered a biological mechanism that helps convert nitrogen-based fertilizer into nitrous oxide, an ozone-depleting greenhouse gas. The paper was published online Nov. 17 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “The first key to plugging a leak is finding the leak,” said Kyle Lancaster, assistant professor of chemistry and chemical biology, and senior author on the research. “We now know the key to the leak and what’s leading to it. Nitrous oxide is becoming quite significant in the atmosphere, as there has been a 120 percent increase of nitrous oxide in our atmosphere since pre-industrial times.” Lancaster, along with postdoctoral researcher Jonathan D. Caranto and chemistry doctoral candidate Avery C. Vilbert, showed that an enzyme made by the ammonia oxidizing bacterium Nitrosomonas europaea, cytochrome P460, produces nitrous oxide after the organism turns ammonia into an intermediate metabolite called hydroxylamine. N. europaea and similar “ammonia-oxidizing bacteria” use hydroxylamine as their fuel source, but too much hydroxylamine can be harmful – and the resulting production of nitrous oxide is a chemical coping strategy. Lancaster and his colleagues hypothesize that when ammonia-oxidizing bacteria are exposed to high levels of nitrogen compounds, such as in crop fields or wastewater treatment plants, then nitrous oxide production via cytochrome P460 will ramp up. In the atmosphere, greenhouse gases are a soup of many species, and Lancaster explained that nitrous oxide has 300 times the potency of carbon dioxide. “That’s a staggering number,” he said. “Nitrous oxide is a really nasty agent to be releasing on a global scale.” Lancaster added that nitrous oxide is photochemically reactive and can form free radicals – ozone-depleting agents – which aggravates the issue of blanketing Earth’s atmosphere with more gas and raising the globe’s temperature. “In addition to its role as a greenhouse gas cloak, it’s removing our protective shield,” Lancaster said. The United States is among the world leaders in importing nitrogen fertilizer, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations noted that the world’s nitrogen fertilizer demand was projected to be 116 million tons for this past agricultural season. “For the world, I realize that we are trying to feed more people and that means more fertilizer – and that means more nitrous oxide,” said Lancaster, who noted that about 30 percent of nitrous oxide emissions come from agriculture and its accompanying land use. To reduce the negative impact of nitrogen, farmers already use nitrification inhibitors. Said Lancaster: “While it will be challenging to develop ways to stop this process, now we have pinpointed one biochemical step leading to nitrous oxide production. Future work may lead to inhibitors, molecules that can deactivate or neutralize this bacterial enzyme. Alternatively, we may just use this new information to develop better strategies for nitrogen management.” The Department of Energy Office of Science and the National Institutes of Health supported the research.


News Article | November 2, 2016
Site: www.eurekalert.org

WASHINGTON, Nov. 2, 2016 - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that USDA will grant $20.2 million to help 34 small businesses move forward with innovative research and development projects to benefit food security, natural resources conservation and other agricultural issues. These competitive grants are made through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, which is coordinated by the Small Business Administration and administered by 11 federal agencies including the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). "I offer my sincere congratulations to these recipients who have demonstrated that their ideas have strong potential for commercialization and can provide real solutions to tough issues that the food, agriculture and forestry sectors are facing," said Vilsack. "Studies have shown that every dollar invested in agricultural research now returns over $20 to our economy, and that's why USDA has increased our investment in delivering problem-driven and solutions-based science from the farm to the lab to the boardroom. Since 2009, through the Small Business Innovation Research program alone, USDA has awarded nearly 850 research and development grants to American-owned, independently operated, for-profit businesses, allowing hundreds of small businesses to explore their technological potential, and providing an incentive to profit from the commercialization of innovative ideas." Since 2009, USDA has invested $19 billion in research and development touching the lives of all Americans from farms to the kitchen table and from the air we breathe to the energy that powers our country. Learn more about the many ways USDA scientists are on the cutting edge, helping to protect, secure and improve our food, agricultural and natural resources systems in USDA's Medium Chapter 11: Food and Ag Science Will Shape Our Future. The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program offers two phases of investment. Phase I invests in feasibility studies of up to $100,000 and Phase II grants of up to $600,000 support project implementation by grantees who successfully completed Phase I. Recipients of today's announcement are all receiving Phase II grants. SBIR funding comes from multiple USDA agencies including NIFA, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Agricultural Research Service, Economic Research Service, National Agricultural Statistics Service and U.S. Forest Service. Examples of projects that will receive funding include: Details on all of the SBIR projects announced today are available on NIFA's SBIR webpage. Recent examples of successful NIFA-funded SBIR projects include work by the Nitrate Elimination Company, Inc., which developed kits that allow farm managers to determine nitrate accumulation levels on their farms, helping them manage nitrate concentration, reduce costly nitrogen fertilizer use, and reduce pollutants. Whole Trees, LLC, developed a new market in construction for small-diameter round timber, a natural waste product of well-managed forests. Stony Creek Colors used a SBIR grant to develop a more efficient way to produce natural indigo dyes using the indigo plant, replacing more commonly used synthetic indigo that pollutes waterways and is slow to decompose. See more examples of SBIR-funded research and development projects in the SBIR brochure available on the NIFA website. Since 1983, the SBIR program has awarded more than 2,000 research and development grants to American-owned, independently operated for-profit businesses with up to 500 employees. Funded research areas include air, soil and water; animal production and protection; aquaculture; biofuels and biobased products; food science and nutrition; forests and related resources; plant production and protection--biology and engineering; rural and community development; and small and midsized farms. NIFA invests in and advances innovative and transformative research, education and extension to solve societal challenges and ensure the long-term viability of agriculture. NIFA supports the best and brightest scientists and extension personnel whose work results in user-inspired, groundbreaking discoveries that combat childhood obesity, improve and sustain rural economic growth, address water availability issues, increase food production, find new sources of energy, mitigate climate variability and ensure food safety. To learn more about NIFA's impact on agricultural science, visit http://www. , sign up for email updates or follow us on @usda_NIFA, #NIFAimpacts. USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender.


News Article | December 6, 2016
Site: www.chromatographytechniques.com

Cornell researchers have discovered a biological mechanism that helps convert nitrogen-based fertilizer into nitrous oxide, an ozone-depleting greenhouse gas. The paper was published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “The first key to plugging a leak is finding the leak,” said Kyle Lancaster, assistant professor of chemistry and chemical biology, and senior author on the research. “We now know the key to the leak and what’s leading to it. Nitrous oxide is becoming quite significant in the atmosphere, as there has been a 120 percent increase of nitrous oxide in our atmosphere since pre-industrial times.” Lancaster, along with postdoctoral researcher Jonathan Caranto and chemistry doctoral candidate Avery Vilbert, showed that an enzyme made by the ammonia oxidizing bacterium Nitrosomonas europaea, cytochrome P460, produces nitrous oxide after the organism turns ammonia into an intermediate metabolite called hydroxylamine. N. europaea and similar “ammonia-oxidizing bacteria” use hydroxylamine as their fuel source, but too much hydroxylamine can be harmful – and the resulting production of nitrous oxide is a chemical coping strategy. Lancaster and his colleagues hypothesize that when ammonia-oxidizing bacteria are exposed to high levels of nitrogen compounds, such as in crop fields or wastewater treatment plants, then nitrous oxide production via cytochrome P460 will ramp up. In the atmosphere, greenhouse gases are a soup of many species, and Lancaster explained that nitrous oxide has 300 times the potency of carbon dioxide. “That’s a staggering number,” he said. “Nitrous oxide is a really nasty agent to be releasing on a global scale.” Lancaster added that nitrous oxide is photochemically reactive and can form free radicals – ozone-depleting agents – which aggravates the issue of blanketing Earth’s atmosphere with more gas and raising the globe’s temperature. “In addition to its role as a greenhouse gas cloak, it’s removing our protective shield,” Lancaster said. The United States is among the world leaders in importing nitrogen fertilizer, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations noted that the world’s nitrogen fertilizer demand was projected to be 116 million tons for this past agricultural season. “For the world, I realize that we are trying to feed more people and that means more fertilizer – and that means more nitrous oxide,” said Lancaster, who noted that about 30 percent of nitrous oxide emissions come from agriculture and its accompanying land use. To reduce the negative impact of nitrogen, farmers already use nitrification inhibitors. “While it will be challenging to develop ways to stop this process, now we have pinpointed one biochemical step leading to nitrous oxide production. Future work may lead to inhibitors, molecules that can deactivate or neutralize this bacterial enzyme. Alternatively, we may just use this new information to develop better strategies for nitrogen management,” said Lancaster.


News Article | November 21, 2016
Site: phys.org

"The first key to plugging a leak is finding the leak," said Kyle Lancaster, assistant professor of chemistry and chemical biology, and senior author on the research. "We now know the key to the leak and what's leading to it. Nitrous oxide is becoming quite significant in the atmosphere, as there has been a 120 percent increase of nitrous oxide in our atmosphere since pre-industrial times." Lancaster, along with postdoctoral researcher Jonathan D. Caranto and chemistry doctoral candidate Avery C. Vilbert, showed that an enzyme made by the ammonia oxidizing bacterium Nitrosomonas europaea, cytochrome P460, produces nitrous oxide after the organism turns ammonia into an intermediate metabolite called hydroxylamine. N. europaea and similar "ammonia-oxidizing bacteria" use hydroxylamine as their fuel source, but too much hydroxylamine can be harmful – and the resulting production of nitrous oxide is a chemical coping strategy. Lancaster and his colleagues hypothesize that when ammonia-oxidizing bacteria are exposed to high levels of nitrogen compounds, such as in crop fields or wastewater treatment plants, then nitrous oxide production via cytochrome P460 will ramp up. In the atmosphere, greenhouse gases are a soup of many species, and Lancaster explained that nitrous oxide has 300 times the potency of carbon dioxide. "That's a staggering number," he said. "Nitrous oxide is a really nasty agent to be releasing on a global scale." Lancaster added that nitrous oxide is photochemically reactive and can form free radicals – ozone-depleting agents – which aggravates the issue of blanketing Earth's atmosphere with more gas and raising the globe's temperature. "In addition to its role as a greenhouse gas cloak, it's removing our protective shield," Lancaster said. The United States is among the world leaders in importing nitrogen fertilizer, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations noted that the world's nitrogen fertilizer demand was projected to be 116 million tons for this past agricultural season. "For the world, I realize that we are trying to feed more people and that means more fertilizer – and that means more nitrous oxide," said Lancaster, who noted that about 30 percent of nitrous oxide emissions come from agriculture and its accompanying land use. To reduce the negative impact of nitrogen, farmers already use nitrification inhibitors. Said Lancaster: "While it will be challenging to develop ways to stop this process, now we have pinpointed one biochemical step leading to nitrous oxide production. Future work may lead to inhibitors, molecules that can deactivate or neutralize this bacterial enzyme. Alternatively, we may just use this new information to develop better strategies for nitrogen management." More information: Jonathan D. Caranto et al. cytochrome P460 is a direct link between nitrification and nitrous oxide emission, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2016). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1611051113


News Article | December 22, 2016
Site: www.prweb.com

For decades the United States has set the tone in the worldwide corn market. But with the combination of the U.S. using about 1/3 of production for the country’s ethanol program, plus a rise in exports in other regions, things are changing. And one of the regions playing a major factor in the corn expert game? The Ukraine. The change in trade patterns and the impact on U.S. farmers is the focus of “Price Discovery When the Market Structure is Changing: The Case of Corn.” The paper is authored by Carlos Arnade of the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. “The United States still dominates but other countries are making a significant impact,” Arnade says. “When you’re planting corn and setting price expectations you have to pay attention to what’s happening in other countries or it may impact your bottom line come harvest time.” What other regions are providing a challenge to the U.S. and what factors could influence corn prices in the future? Arnade and co-author Linwood Hoffman will present their findings during an AAEA session at the Allied Social Sciences Association (ASSA) 2017 Annual Meeting in Chicago, January 6-8. If you are interested in setting up an interview, please contact Jay Saunders in the AAEA Business Office. ABOUT AAEA: Established in 1910, the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association (AAEA) is the leading professional association for agricultural and applied economists, with 2,500 members in more than 20 countries. Members of the AAEA work in academic or government institutions as well as in industry and not-for-profit organizations, and engage in a variety of research, teaching, and outreach activities in the areas of agriculture, the environment, food, health, and international development. The AAEA publishes two journals, the American Journal of Agricultural Economics and Applied Economic Perspectives & Policy, as well as the online magazine Choices. To learn more, visit http://www.aaea.org.


Objective: To estimate the effect of the US Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) on the food security (consistent access to adequate food) of recipients, net of the effect of the self-selection of more food-needy households into the programme. Design: The food security of current SNAP recipients and recent leavers is compared in cross-sectional survey data, adjusting for economic and demographic differences using multivariate logistic regression methods. A similar analysis in 2-year longitudinal panels provides additional control for selection on unobserved variables based on food security status in the previous year. Setting: Household survey data collected for the US Department of Agriculture by the US Census Bureau. Subjects: Households interviewed in the Current Population Survey Food Security Supplements from 2001 to 2009. Results: The odds of very low food security among households that continued on SNAP through the end of a survey year were 28 % lower than among those that left SNAP prior to the 30-d period during which food security was assessed. In 2-year panels with controls for the severity of food insecurity in the previous year, the difference in odds was 45 %. Conclusions: The results are consistent with, or somewhat higher than, the estimates from the strongest previous research designs and suggest that the ameliorative effect of SNAP on very low food security is in the range of 20-50 %.


McPhail L.L.,Economic Research Service
Energy Economics | Year: 2011

Despite the growing importance of biofuels, the effect of biofuels on fossil fuel markets is not fully understood. We develop a joint structural Vector Auto Regression (VAR) model of the global crude oil, US gasoline, and US ethanol markets to examine whether the US ethanol market has had any impact on global oil markets. The structural VAR approach provides a unique method for decomposing price and quantity data into demand and supply shocks, allowing us to estimate the distinct dynamic effects of ethanol demand and supply shocks on the real prices of crude oil and US gasoline. Ethanol demand in the US is driven mainly by government support in the form of tax credits and blending mandates. Shocks to ethanol demand therefore reflect changes in policy more than any other factor. In contrast, ethanol supply shocks are driven by changes in feedstock prices. A principle finding is that a policy-driven ethanol demand expansion causes a statistically significant decline in real crude oil prices, while an ethanol supply expansion does not have a statistically significant impact on real oil prices. This suggests that even though US ethanol market is small, the influence of US biofuels policy on the crude oil market is pervasive. We also show that ethanol demand shocks are more important than ethanol supply shocks in explaining the fluctuation of real prices of crude oil and US gasoline. © 2011.


Hitaj C.,Economic Research Service
Energy Policy | Year: 2015

Many governments offer subsidies for renewable power to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the power sector. However, most support schemes for renewable power do not take into account that emissions depend on the location of renewable and conventional power plants within an electricity grid. I simulate optimal power flow in a test grid when 4 renewable power plants connect to the grid across 24 potential sites, amounting to over 10,000 configurations. Each configuration is associated with different levels of emissions and renewable power output. I find that emission reductions vary by a factor of 7 and that curtailment due to transmission congestion is more likely when renewable power plants are concentrated in an area of the grid with low demand. Large cost savings could be obtained by allowing subsidies for renewable power to vary across locations according to abatement potential or by replacing subsidies with a price on emissions. © 2015.

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