Washington Insider -Wednesday

Australia Shifts, Cuts Climate Science Research

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

ERS: Net Farm Income Forecast to Decline Again 2016

U.S. net farm income is projected to decline for a third consecutive year in 2016 and is also forecast below the 10-year moving average, according to the first look at 2016 farm income prospects from USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS).

Net cash farm income, which only tracks cash receipts and expenses, is also expected to decline. Net cash farm income and net farm income in 2016 are projected to be $90.9 billion and $54.8 billion, respectively, with both figures below their 10-year moving averages.

Until the recent year-over-year declines, the 10-year moving averages for net cash farm income and net farm income had been increasing. Prices are expected to have fallen for a broad swath of ag commodities in 2015 and are also expected to decline again in 2016. Production expenses are projected to decline in 2016 for the second year in a row – the first time since 1985 and 1986 – but not by enough to offset the impact of declines in commodity prices.

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Farm Bureau Seeks Farmer Feedback on USDA Programs

The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) has launched an online survey of farmers to gather their feedback on around 10 USDA programs.

“If you have ever found it confusing or complex to apply for USDA programs, this is your opportunity to provide feedback on how to improve the process,” said AFBF President Zippy Duvall. “We know USDA staff are concerned that farmers and ranchers who could benefit from agency programs frequently do not apply,” he added. “Our goal is to help turn that around.”

The group said it will use the feedback gathered on the following programs to generate recommendations on how USDA can enhance its programs and make them more useful:

· Environmental Quality Incentives Program;

· Conservation Stewardship Program;

· Conservation Reserve Program;

· Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program;

· Value Added Producer Grants;

· Rural Energy for America Program;

· Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program;

· Direct Farm Ownership Loans;

· Direct Farm Operating Loans; and

· Guaranteed Farm Loans (farm operating and farm ownership.

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Washington Insider: Australia Shifts, Cuts Climate Science Research

Last week, Australia announced major shifts in its famed Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO). The decision was below the radar for much of the U.S. media but was top news for science organizations around the globe. It was reported in detail by Climatewire and other Australian, U.S. and European publications.

CSIRO is a federally funded research agency akin to NASA in the United States. Its climate change program is the largest in the nation and the most advanced in the Southern Hemisphere, a part of the world that is 80% ocean and home to 12% of the world’s population.

The scientific establishment in Europe and the United States was somewhat caught off balance by the announcement. Apparently, as many as 110 out of 140 positions in the atmosphere and oceans division at CSIRO will be affected, according to Larry Marshall, the agency’s chief executive and another 120 positions will be cut from the land and water program. Across the agency, 350 climate staff will be moved into new roles unrelated to their specialty, CW said.

The only other detailed long-term CO2 record in the Southern Hemisphere is from the South Pole, said Ralph Keeling, an atmospheric scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, who oversees the Mauna Loa CO2 monitoring station.

“The Cape Grim observatory is a premier site, which is sustaining some of the most important long-term records of climate that exist on the planet.”

Also in danger are long-term observations of ocean, atmosphere and weather processes in the Southern Hemisphere which are used to refine global climate models, which are algorithmic representations of the planet’s climate.

CSIRO’s scientists began building theirs in 1981 and have honed it to represent the Southern Hemisphere and Australia’s climate at particularly high resolution. There are two dozen other climate models, developed in the United States and Europe, but they have a Northern Hemisphere focus.

CSIRO’s climate programs have been under political pressure since at least May 2014, when the then-conservative government cut the agency’s budget by $111 million. Almost 1,000 positions were eliminated, including in the climate departments.

More recently, CSIRO has been directed by a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who has shifted focus to innovation rather than basic science. When Malcolm Turnbull became Australia’s prime minister in September last year he replaced a pro-energy predecessor and environmentalists rejoiced. But Turnbull’s government has also emphasized science that can be easily commercialized, Climate Wire reported and CSIRO’s management was audited for their commercial potential.

“We were having a hard time demonstrating the capacity to be commercially valuable,” one CSIRO scientist told Climate Wire. “Not that climate science can’t demonstrate incredible economic value to society by helping to adapt and reduce damages and risks, but that’s not the kind of economics that the new CEO and the government is going after.”

Now, the administration says that CSIRO will focus on a path where “climate and industry can be partners and…we must walk that path to prove our science.”

In the process of the change, the administration apparently claimed that “climate change is now settled science, and basic research is no longer needed,” Climate Wire says. That is leading to active rebukes for CSIRO administrator for his understanding of climate change science and “the critical nature of its basic work in understanding the climate change agreement signed in Paris last year.”

While it is now certain that humans are altering the planet, Climate Wire says, scientists are still coloring in the shapes of the changes to come. That argument focuses on questions about “What the targets from the Paris agreement mean? What do they mean regionally? Are we on track for these targets, or in fact, are we going to end up at some higher level? Are countries actually reporting emissions correctly?”

While the reorganization was an internal CSIRO decision, it is being bitterly debated and critics are charging that the events may affect how Australia is perceived globally, Erwin Jackson, deputy CEO of the Climate Institute said.

“It doesn’t help the perception that the government isn’t serious about climate change,” he said. “If we want a good policy outcome that protects people, communities and our economy, then we need to be revaluating and ensuring that we have the capacity to understand and manage climate change risks.”

Australians have a long reputation for serious support for science, and the apparently wholesale shift in focus of a widely regarded institution seems out of character. In addition, Australian support for global models has long been important. Thus, the Australian climate science dispute is important to U.S. producers, and should be watched closely as it proceeds, Washington Insider believes.


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(GH/CZ)