Climate Change Challenges and Solutions in Forestry & Agriculture

Climate change is already impacting agriculture and forestry production in the U.S. However, these sectors also hold the key to adaptation and mitigation. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is at the forefront of addressing these challenges and developing solutions. Understanding the implications of climate change in agriculture and forestry is crucial for our nation to forge ahead with effective strategies and outcomes, ensuring our food and shelter resources remain secure.

Currently, the atmosphere contains more key greenhouse gasses (nitrous oxides, carbon dioxide, methane) than ever in history thanks to human activities. Industrial, agricultural, and deforestation practices add to the abundance of these critical gasses that are warming our planet. This has become more noticeable through more frequent severe weather and natural disasters with record heat waves, droughts, tornadoes, and rainfall. In 2023, global climate records of temperatures were broken and hit the highest in the last 174 years. Ocean temperatures are reaching record levels, along with major melts in ice sheets. All these changes will affect forestry and agriculture in profound ways. Crop damaging insects and diseases, along with other stresses caused by extreme changes, will also have cascading effects.

Adjustments or adaptations in response to climate change have progressed globally, with planning and implementation across multiple sectors and regions. While much attention is being paid to reforestation and reducing deforestation, gaps still exist and will need continued attention and financial input to address current and future challenges. Agriculture and forestry are two sectors worth exploring as they can open up climate adaptation and mitigation solutions that have positive cascading benefits across regions.

Challenges in the Agriculture and Forestry Sector

Agriculture contributes to greenhouse gas emissions through several activities, such as burning crop residues, soil management and fertilization, animal manure management, and rice cultivation. In addition, agriculture requires significant amounts of energy for vehicles, tractors, harvest, and irrigation equipment. Agriculture involves complex systems that include inputs of fertilizers and chemicals, management decisions, social factors, and interactions between climate and soil.

Most agriculture operations need fertilizers to produce goods, but the management and specific use of fertilizers need further focus. According to the Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks, agriculture contributes 9.4% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

Agriculture is particularly vulnerable to climate change because many operations are exposed to climatic changes in the natural landscape. There has been widespread economic damage in agriculture due to climate change. Individuals and farms have been affected by flooding, tornadoes, extreme wildfires, droughts, and excessive rains. Loss of property and income, human health, and food security is real for agriculture producers. Adverse impacts will continue to be felt in agricultural systems, particularly in crop production, water availability, animal health, and pests and diseases.

Forestry is a major industry in the U.S. and plays a key role in regulating the climate by transferring carbon within ecosystems and the atmosphere.. Forests remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and store it in trees and soils. Forestry has seen a decline in the last few decades due to development and cropland expansion. The decline in forestry acres affects essential services such as air purification, regulating water quantity and quality, wood products for shelter, outdoor recreation, medicines, and wildlife habitat. Many Indigenous people and Tribal Nations depend on forest ecosystems for food, timber, culture, and traditions. Effective forest management is crucial for human well-being and is influenced by social and economic factors.

Land cover types and distribution of the United States. Forest lands have decreased in the last two decades. (Source: Fifth National Climate Assessment)

Forests are affected by climate change on local or regional levels based on climate conditions such as rainfall and temperature. The West has been significantly affected, with higher temperatures and drought leading to more wildfires. Higher temperatures come with higher evaporation rates, leading to drier forests that are susceptible to fires. The greater amount of dry wood causes extensive fires that burn more intensely. Fire activity is projected to increase with further warming and less rain. Since 1990, these extensive fires have produced greater greenhouse gas emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2). Other regions of the country with forests that typically receive more rain, like the southeast and northeast, are challenging to predict fire hazards. Other climate change effects include insects, diseases, and invasive species, which change forest ecosystems’ growth, death, and regeneration. Various degrees of disruption can impact a forest’s dynamics.

Current Adaptation Approaches in Agriculture and Forestry

Since agriculture’s largest contribution to greenhouse gas emissions is agriculture soil management, emphasis is being placed on reducing emissions from this process. Farmers are tilling less and using cover crops to keep the ground covered, which helps soils perform the important function of carbon storage. These techniques can also help lower soil temperatures and conserve moisture. In addition, those working in the agriculture sector are taking measures to adapt to the changing climate by developing crops that can withstand higher temperatures and water stress. Ecosystem-based solutions such as wetland restoration to reduce flooding have also been effective. Another potential solution is agroforestry, in which trees are planted, and other agricultural products are grown between the trees or livestock is grazed within a forestry system. This system provides shade to the animals and enhances biodiversity. It protects water bodies by keeping the soil covered with vegetation throughout the year. The perennial vegetation also stores carbon in above-ground vegetation and below-ground roots.

In the forestry space, land managers and owners are developing plans to adapt to climate challenges by building adaptations in key areas such as relationships and connections of land stewardship, research teamwork, and education curriculum. Several guides, assessments, and frameworks have been designed to help private forest owners, Tribal lands, and federally managed forests. Tribal adaptation plans also include Tribal values and cultural considerations for forests. The coasts will be adapting to more frequent flooding, and relocation of recreation areas in vulnerable areas is being planned. In major forestry production areas in the West, forestry agencies are developing plans for prescribed burning to keep dead wood lower, eliminate invasive species, and enable fire-adapted ecosystems to thrive, all while reducing severe wildfires. Thinning forests and fuel removal also help with reducing wildfire risk.      

While both sectors have made progress in quickly adjusting their practices, much more needs to be done to ensure that land managers and affected communities are better prepared for both the short-term and long-term effects of climate change. The federal government, through USDA, can drive adaptation efforts to help these communities.

Current Policy

The USDA created the Climate Adaptation and Resilience Plan in response to Executive Order 14008, Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, which requires all federal agencies to develop climate adaptation plans in all public service aspects, including management, operations, missions, and programs. 

The adaptation plan focuses on key threats to agriculture and forestry, such as:

Many USDA agencies have developed actions to address the impacts of climate change in different mission areas of USDA. These adaptation plans provide information for farmers, ranchers, forest owners, rural communities, trade and foreign affairs on ways to address the impact of climate change that affects them the most. For example, farm and ranch managers can use COMET Farm, a user-friendly online tool co-developed by Colorado State University and USDA that helps compare land management practices and account for carbon and greenhouse gas emissions.

USDA has invested $3.1 billion in Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities, encompassing 141 projects that involve small and underserved producers. The diverse projects are matched financially with non-federal funds and include over 20 tribal projects, 100 universities, including 30 minority-serving institutions, and others. The goals of the federal and private sector funding include:

The USDA Forest Service has also developed its own Climate Adaptation Plan that comprehensively incorporates climate adaptation into its mission and operations. The Forest Service has cultivated partnerships with the Northwest Climate Hub, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, University of Washington, and the Climate Impacts Group to develop tools and data to help with decision-making, evaluations, and developing plans for implementation. One notable example is the Sustainability and Climate website, which provides information on adaptation, vulnerability assessments, carbon, and other aspects of land management. 


While sustained government incentives can help drive adaptation efforts, it is important for everyone to play a role in adapting to climate change, especially in the agriculture and forestry sectors. Purchasing products that are grown sustainably and in climate-smart ways will help protect natural resources and support these communities. Understanding the significance of resilience against climate changes and disruptions is crucial, both in the short and long term. These challenges require collaborators to work together to creatively solve problems in addressing greenhouse gas contributions. Climate models can help solve complex problems and test different scenarios and solutions. As the Fifth National Climate Assessment of the United States notes, greenhouse gas concentrations are increasing, global warming is on the rise, and climate change is currently happening. The choices we make now can have a significant impact on our future.

The Federation of American Scientists values diversity of thought and believes that a range of perspectives — informed by evidence — is essential for discourse on scientific and societal issues. Contributors allow us to foster a broader and more inclusive conversation. We encourage constructive discussion around the topics we care about.

Building Environmental Justice: Alexa White

Alexa White, the 2023 recipient of the FAS Public Service Policy Entrepreneurship Award, says her journey into the world of science policy started back when she was earning her undergraduate degree in biology and chemistry at Howard University.

She says the gulf between her scientific studies and her lived experience began to gnaw at her more and more.

“It kind of felt like I was in an ivory tower,” White said on stage at the FAS Public Service Awards ceremony. “It took me a long time to relate the science that I was doing to the background that I come from – my identity as a Black woman.

“I was an ecologist that studied lizards, so I was chasing lizards around the deserts of Arizona and trying to understand their habitats. When I would talk to my parents, they would be like, ‘Oh, that’s so fun. What does that really mean? How does that translate into our lives and what it means to the people around you?’”

Conversations like that one led White to start thinking about environmental justice and the role that data can play in sound – or unsound – science policy. She and a friend came up with the idea for the AYA Research Institute – the subject of the policy memo that emerged from White’s participation in FAS/Day One’s Early Career Science Policy Accelerator.

“The AYA [name] stands for the African Adinkra symbol for resilience,” White explained, “and so we really thought that that was a good representation of what we thought about environmental justice and how we came to be environmental justice leaders. The work that we do handles technology as well as the policy aspects of what environmental justice can bring to the field.”

White’s journey as an environmental justice leader was just getting started. She followed up her policy memo by joining the first cohort of FAS’ Policy Entrepreneurship Fellows (PEF). During her time as a PEF, White joined with FAS staffers conducting a thorough assessment of the Biden Administration’s progress living up to its promises in the Justice40 Initiative. The analysis helped identify areas where progress was on track and others where it was lagging. Most notably, it helped identify yet untapped areas in clean transit and transportation, urban forestry and urban greening, which could yield greater progress than anticipated. White, together FAS staff, had an opportunity to brief both the Director of Environmental Justice at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, as well as the leadership of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Committee (WHEJAC).

“I’m really glad to see that environmental justice is becoming a thing,” White said. “[Two years ago] it was not something that anyone knew about, and the Biden administration has done a really good job with Justice40 and pushing the language, pushing the funding, and now it’s a question of how to use [the data].”

Now White is completing her doctorate in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Michigan and plans to defend this spring. Her dissertation research focuses on biophysical indicators of sustainable agriculture and international climate governance pertaining to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #2: To End Hunger.

White was awarded the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Conservation Leadership Award in 2020 for her research and profound discoveries in food sovereignty and food justice, and in 2023, FAS honored her with its first ever Policy Entrepreneurship Award at its FAS Public Service Awards ceremony, where she joined fellow 2023 honorees filmmaker Christopher Nolan, Senators Chuck Schumer and Todd Young, and former OSTP interim director Alondra Nelson.

“I come from a family of sharecroppers, so within Texas and North Carolina, my grandparents were working the land, and I didn’t really pay attention to that when I was younger because I didn’t really understand the relevance of it,” White told the audience at the awards ceremony. “I didn’t understand the history and how it connected to the science that I practice today. And that alongside of, I’m from Newark, New Jersey, and so there’s a lot of factories there, a lot of different kinds of problems with the water pollution and lead. It wasn’t until I was in my Ph.D at the University of Michigan that I understood that I was empowered. I had the ability to make changes through my work, and through a critical analysis of data. So I definitely think that I’m kind of carrying on the work of my family as well as my peers.”

Dr. Rebecca Glaser, Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations, Energy Storage (for the People) and Policy Expert

This series of interviews spotlights scientists working across the country to implement the Department of Energy’s massive efforts to transition the country to clean energy, and improve equity and address climate injustice along the way. The Federation’s clean energy workforce report discusses the challenges and opportunities associated with ramping up this dynamic, in-demand workforce. These interviews have been edited for length and do not necessarily reflect the views of the DOE. Discover more DOE spotlights here.  

Dr. Rebecca Glaser started her career as an engineer in academia. But her interest in the field’s applications for clean energy drove her to take a chance and join the Department of Energy. Now at the Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations, Dr. Glaser is paving the way for cutting-edge energy storage and battery technologies to scale up. With experience in research, commercialization, and delivering clean energy directly to communities, Dr. Glaser’s background makes her an exceptional example of a clean energy champion. 

Discovering the Environmental Application of Materials Science

Dr. Glaser grew up in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., and was no stranger to the world of public service. Surrounded by an environmentally conscious community, she volunteered throughout high school. She had an early interest in math and science, born of a desire to learn more about the world – but was not sure how to turn it into a career. 

In her first year of college, Dr. Glaser ended up in a seminar series focused on the technology of energy that was full of senior undergraduate and graduate students who were all involved in materials science research. Although it was a new field to her, it combined her interest in chemistry and physics with obvious applications – sparking her love for that work. “I realized that all of the people teaching [the seminar] whose research I found interesting were all in materials science, and most of the energy applications I was looking at were being done through that field.”

But even with a field of study in mind, Dr. Glaser was unsure of where to take her passions. She pursued a PhD to dive deeper into batteries and concentrate on one area of technology. “I knew exactly what technology I wanted to work on, but I didn’t know where I wanted to put those skills, whether it was industry or academia. But I didn’t know government was an option.”

Applying the Research

In grad school, however, she explored roads less traveled. While peers were doing internships at Intel and Tesla, Dr. Glaser applied for a position at Resources for the Future, a policy research and analysis organization. As part of the internship, she gained insight into how her work was connected to real-world issues. 

“We were writing a case study about coal communities that were working through energy transitions – I focused on one in Ohio, where they were losing or about to lose their coal-fired power plant. We were looking at the effectiveness of government intervention.  I was interviewing economic development officials in counties across Ohio about their experiences with federal grants and the communities that benefit from those programs. All in the middle of my very technical battery PhD.”

It was a valuable experience for Dr. Glaser. When she was finishing her PhD and applying for government fellowships, it gave her additional perspectives on how she could use her expertise to make a difference. 

Battery Research and Development at  the DOE

Dr. Glaser started her work in government as a ORISE Fellow in DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) – maybe on the surface an unlikely choice for someone interested in batteries, but not to Dr. Glaser. “You can’t really go forward with solar without energy storage – you can only get to a certain point, and I wanted to be that storage expert for them.” 

She credits the experience with giving her a lot of learning opportunities, acting as a resource for storage issues, working on program development in topics like recycling, siting, and more. “I learned a lot about how government works – all of its intricacies. It gave me a broader appreciation for the issues behind the science and really helped direct me towards what I wanted to do next.” 

Dr. Glaser moved into a position as a Project Officer at the Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations last March and then to a position as a Project Manager, focusing full-time on her passion for energy storage. “It’s an exciting time to be in DOE – it was really cool to graduate in 2021 and then have legislation passed that created the office I now work in.” As a project manager, she helps steward these new programs, select projects for the office to fund, and support award negotiations. There’s a long road ahead, but she is excited for their potential impact. 

OCED handles a wide range of burgeoning clean energy technologies – and Dr. Glaser feels privileged to be on the cutting edge of what’s possible in energy storage. “Energy storage is so diverse and interesting – I’m excited to see how the different technologies play out and interact with each other, and what I’m able to learn about them.” The office has a hefty mandate, but its ability to respond to support the energy storage needs of the present as well as the decades to come will make a huge difference in achieving a net-zero future.

Stiff Competition to Apply Skills that Make Impactful Contributions

But an office is only as good as the staff that run it. Too often, the world-class talent that keeps the mission going are not recognized for their high-level expertise. Dr. Glaser emphasized that getting to support this vital work is because of years of hard work on her part – and that’s one of her biggest accomplishments. 

“The transition I was able to make [into government] is a really hard thing to do It’s giving up the expected path – to go into industry, into a lab, or into a postdoc.”

It’s important to note that SETO, the office Dr. Glaser did her fellowship in has a competitive application pool. She credits her success making the transition to the work she put in conducting informational interviews, taking on work like her internship at Resources for the Future, attending conferences – what she calls the “slow systematic work of understanding this new path and how to get yourself there.”

DOE employees like Dr. Glaser put in that effort because they know the potential for impact is so great. “I am doing the most I can be doing with my job, with the skill set I have. This is the most impactful thing I can do with my skills.”

Firefighting Workforce Benefits from FY25 Budget Request but Sustained Investments are Necessary to Address the Wildfire Crisis

Despite growing federal spending on wildfire suppression, wildfires continue to grow in size and severity in the U.S. Nearly 100,000 structures have been wiped out by wildfires nationwide in the last two decades. Impacts of fires go far beyond what the flames touch; smoke from uncontrolled fires is worsening human health from coast to coast. 

We know uncontrolled wildfire is costly, but a full accounting of just how costly is elusive given currently available data. Federal spending on wildfire suppression has exceeded $1 billion every year since 2011, with spending sometimes as high as $4 billion; longer-term costs imposed on livelihoods, ecosystem services, and health are estimated to be much higher.

Investments in prevention (including beneficial fire to reduce highly flammable vegetation) are essential for decreasing these skyrocketing costs in the long-term. The Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission, which submitted a detailed report to Congress in 2023 with recommendations for improving how we manage wildland fire, noted that the historic focus on putting out fires without substantial investment in risk mitigation “perpetuates a reactive and expensive cycle and consigns ourselves to an ever-increasing catalog of loss.” 

In the last decade, the U.S. has made significant investments to address the wildfire crisis, including the historic investments in hazardous fuels reduction through the IRA and IIJA. But discretionary funding via the annual appropriations cycle has provided additional opportunities for Congress to make down payments on a more wildfire-resilient future. These investments include doubling of wildfire funding for the Department of Interior (DOI) and the U.S. Forest Service from fiscal year 2011 to 2020 (although much of this funding was for suppression-related activities). 

The president’s FY 2025 budget would add to this growth via modest but important increases for sustaining or enhancing wildfire work at specific agencies. Areas of focused investment include increases to support pay, health and wellbeing, and housing for wildland firefighters in recognition that “the federal government must provide a level of pay that is competitive with the compensation provided by state, local, and private employers.” The FY 2025 budget would also include increased or sustained funds for certain programs at the Federation Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to improve community capacity for wildfire preparedness. It also supports certain Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) programs that concern wildfire smoke. 

Wildfire in the FY25 Request

Below are a few highlights from the president’s FY 2025 budget concerning key activities at select agencies with relevance to wildfire. These highlights are just a sampling and do not constitute a comprehensive assessment of wildfire appropriations in the FY 2025 president’s budget at these or other agencies. The full spectrum of federal entities that undertake wildland fire activities is broader and includes NASA, NOAA, DOD, and CDC among others. 

U.S. Forest Service

Department of the Interior 

Federal Emergency Management Agency

Environmental Protection Agency 

The Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission released its report to Congress in September 2023, likely too late for its 148 recommendations to be considered thoroughly in agency budget development. While this budget request lays a foundation for important Commission recommendations such as pay increases and housing for federal wildland firefighters, significant additional investments will still be needed in the years to come. The Commission noted that “investments at a similar and sustained scale (to the IRA and IIJA) in federal land management agencies and programs are needed to successfully and proactively reduce growing wildfire risk,” and recommended strong support for wildland fire management through land management agencies to the tune of $85-95 billion total in the next decade (almost triple what has already been invested). Additionally, it recommended funding to support other agencies with critical roles in addressing the wildfire crisis including FEMA, NOAA, and EPA. 

While agency budget documents give us a general sense of the magnitude of investments in wildland fire at each agency, we don’t actually have a clear picture of wildfire spending across the federal government as a whole. As Taxpayers for Common Sense found, there is no single federal definition of what falls under the category of wildfire spending. Federal entities such as the Department of Agriculture, DOI, and FEMA use different budget structures to describe their direct and indirect spending on wildland fire (although DOI does package all of its wildfire spending into a department-wide budget).

Consequently, agencies, Congress, and the public are limited in their ability to assess wildland fire spending government-wide. An important Commission recommendation is thus that Congress “fund agency budgets offices to create crosscuts to better track all federal wildfire spending.” We highlighted this recommendation for Congress (along with other Commission recommendations on wildfire spending and budgeting) in a recent joint letter with The Pew Charitable Trusts, Taxpayers for Common Sense, and Megafire Action. 

There is no magic bullet for solving our wildfire crisis, but sustained investments that strategically leverage science, technology, data, and the workforce and emphasize prevention can pave the way to a more resilient future.

Soil and Water: Why We Need Conservation Agriculture 

On May 1, 2023, a devastating dust storm  – the result of severe wind erosion –  propelled soil across highway I-55, causing numerous accidents, injuries, and loss of life. The factors that led to this erosion event were excessive tillage, exposed soils, and windy conditions. In response, the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation published an article proposing a “Soil Health Act,” to improve conservation agriculture policy.  

Most erosion is a direct result of human activities, such as leaving the soil bare for extended periods and excessive tillage in agricultural fields. Extreme weather events exacerbate soil erosion, with large wind erosion events damaging crops and causing air pollution in nearby communities. Water erosion can strip productive topsoil from cropland, reducing crop productivity and depositing sediment in water bodies. The Fifth National Climate Assessment further confirms that extreme weather is on the rise.

The United States boasts some of the most productive soils globally, particularly in the Midwest region, known as the corn belt. This vast expanse of farmland, which drains into the Mississippi River and eventually reaches the Gulf of Mexico, is a crucial part of our country’s agricultural landscape. However, this network of soil and water, while offering significant benefits, also poses significant challenges if not properly cared for.

Map of U.S. major agriculture cropland areas in dark green. These regions also have highly productive soils. The Midwest soils of Iowa, southern Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, southern Wisconsin, and Ohio are globally significant breadbasket soils. (Source: National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2017).

Wind erosion in the left photo is active in many regions of the country, leading to poor soil conditions for agricultural production. Water erosion takes productive topsoil and applied fertilizers and chemical products used off cropland as it heads toward streams. (Source: Jodie McVane (left) and Rodale Institute (right))

Fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and other products can enter water sources through two primary pathways: soil and chemical losses. Chemical losses can contaminate groundwater by moving down through the soil profile. Contaminated groundwater flows into private and public water supply wells , with many wells having high nitrate levels from commercial fertilizers and animal applications of manure. Nitrates can pose health risks to infants, cause toxic anemia, and how red blood cells deliver oxygen to the cells and tissues. In adults, reproductive health issues and certain cancers are also possible. And it’s not just nitrates: Atrazine, a common chemical used to control weeds, is found in many drinking wells across the U.S.

When soil erodes it takes nitrates, atrazine, and other contaminants away from land surfaces and into surface waterways, leading to water quality problems and soil sediment pollution. Many land managers try to avoid creating runoff, but agricultural practices leaving soils exposed with no plant residues and erosive storms make this a common occurrence. Soil erosion impacts can also be experienced as sedimentation and murky waters in recreational water bodies, roads covered with mud, and dirty snow covered with wind-blown soils, all of which affect everyday life and are undesirable for fish and plants. The lack of soil protection during the non-crop growing season in the U.S. has caused soil erosion and degradation of precious resources, diminishing the ability to grow food, fiber, and wood and provide clean water. Thus, erosion affects long-term production and economic viability for farms.

Protecting Our Soils Through Conservation Agriculture

Fortunately, we can find solutions through conservation agriculture–a system of farming practices, which includes cover crops and reduced tillage, that protects soil and prevents both soil and chemical losses. Growing plants year-round can address soil loss by keeping the soil covered with plants known as cover crops like corn, soybean, and cotton. Others, like grasses, legumes, and forbs can be grown for seasonal cover. Reduced tillage from cover crops can be beneficial in several different ways:

They control erosion, build healthy soils, and improve water quality. Cover crops planted during these periods can scavenge unused fertilizers from the previous crop and prevent nutrients from reaching surface and groundwater systems. Reducing tillage or switching to no-till cropping systems can also increase soil structure and aid in water infiltration, helping water get into the soil instead of running off.

When soils have many soil organisms with a favorable habitat, they can break down chemical pollutants effectively before reaching groundwater. Cover crops can also play a vital role in absorbing nitrates or other contaminants. Studies have shown that cover crops can reduce nitrates by 48% before they reach subsurface waters. Reduced tillage can provide habitats for these organisms by reducing soil disturbance. 

Cover crops capture sunlight and use plants’ photosynthetic processes to capture carbon in plant shoots and root systems. Much carbon is stored in our soils through plant roots. When the plants die, their roots remain in the soil, keeping the carbon sequestered. Excessive tillage breaks soil structure and releases carbon. Reduced tillage and no-till cropping systems allow soils to better maintain their carbon content.

Diverse cover crop species can be mixed, which leads to the diversification of plant roots and above-ground biomass. Furthermore, diversity above ground also means diversity below ground for soil organisms. Grasses can also be utilized alone to effectively suppress weeds and protect against erosion. Cover crops can capture carbon and increase carbon storage in soils, so planting cover crops yearly is important. (Source: Jodie McVane)

Federal and State Government Incentives to Expand Conservation Agricultural Practices     

Overall, cover crop use is low in the United States and varies depending on established social norms, soils, climate, primary crops, outreach programs, and conservation technical assistance. According to the USDA Economic Research Service, cover crop use increased from 3.4% of U.S. cropland in 2012 to 5.1% in 2017. The increase is positive, but millions of cropland acres can still benefit from applying cover crops and reduced tillage. While the use of conservation agriculture is an individual land manager’s choice and overall cover crop remains low, the USDA report notes that there has been some progress and positive trends. Continued incentives from both federal and state governments will be crucial to encourage wide adoption of conservation agricultural practices. 

Many USDA programs provide cost-sharing incentives to farmers who voluntarily encourage using cover crops, reducing tillage, planting grasslands, and diversifying crop rotations. The Farm Bill provides funding to assist farmers through the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) programs, such as the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). In addition to the Farm Bill, the Inflation Reduction Act provided additional funds to USDA-NRCS through these same programs to promote Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry Mitigation activities. The Inflation Reduction Act makes nearly $20 billion additional dollars available over five years for these programs. Current federal policy allows these programs to fund conservation practices for 3-5 years on a typical farm. Some states are also leading in incentivizing land managers to apply cover crops. States providing monetary incentives include Maryland, Iowa, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, and Virginia.

A mix of cover crops of grasses and broadleaves in the fall after a corn crop in the Midwest. (left photo) A cereal ryegrass cover crop holds the soil in place with fibrous root systems and protects the soil surface from water or wind erosion while suppressing weeds. (right photo) (Source: Jodie McVane)

Current Gaps and Proposed Policies

We will need lasting policies and sustainable funding  to ensure the long-term adoption of conservation agricultural practices. Current voluntary conservation programs only provide funding for a 5-year period, which does not guarantee that farmers will permanently transition to conservation agriculture practices.

The federal government should incentivize the adoption of soil health practices and conservation agriculture widely across the United States in three ways:     

Fund organizations that can provide educational events for farmers, consultants, policy groups, and consumers. These organizations are valuable and promote farmer-led education and peer-to-peer mentoring. Farmers enjoy learning from other farmers along with research experts.

Reward farmers who adopt conservation agriculture systems by providing long-term payments for continued use of conservation practices. Farmers who adopt these practices would benefit from their ecosystem services, such as building soil carbon, improving water quality, maintaining stable soil structure, and increasing water infiltration, which could significantly impact the health of our cropland acres.

Provide a reduction-based premium discount in the Federal Crop Insurance program for agricultural commodity producers that use risk-reduction farming practices, including cover crops. A discount on the insurance premium can have a lasting effect and provide a continued financial incentive to perform conservation on farms. 

Soil is the foundation of our national health, providing food, homes, fibers, and the structural foundations for everyday life. Soils filter water for clean drinking, safe fishing, and other recreational activities, enabling our farms, factories, homes, schools, universities, and state and federal governments to access clean water; the widespread adoption of conservation agricultural practices to protect soils is key to ensuring food security for current and future generations in the United States. Healthy soils can protect not only our national treasure but also our national security and ability to care for our citizens. 

As President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.” Imagine driving around the country and seeing continuous vegetation growing, protecting soils, capturing carbon, and protecting our water resources. It would be a different landscape in our nation and, over the years, could improve the culture of agriculture.

The Federation of American Scientists values diversity of thought and believes that a range of perspectives — informed by evidence — is essential for discourse on scientific and societal issues. Contributors allow us to foster a broader and more inclusive conversation. We encourage constructive discussion around the topics we care about.

Building Ecosystems: Policy Entrepreneurship Fellow Christopher Gillespie

Christopher Gillespie was deep into his PhD work in soil ecology and soil biogeochemistry when he heard about FAS’ Day One Project and decided to take a crack at writing policy.

Excited by the prospect of combining the rigor of his science training with his passion for dismantling systemic institutional discrimination, he applied for Day One’s Early Career Science Policy Accelerator and was accepted. He completed his policy memo on urban revitalization, “Putting Redlines in the Green: Economic Revitalization Through Innovative Neighborhood Markets”, in the summer of 2022. “Redlining” may be a term that evokes zoning policies of the mid-20th century, but its effects are still being felt today in communities of color, and its legacies are still costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. Gillespie’s memo detailed a five-step action plan for addressing inequity and decreasing the burden on taxpayers.

“I was able to use all my lived experiences, and my understanding of the sciences, both economically and in terms of bioinformatics,” he says. “And that was really cool for me, because I was able to really take all these different areas and create an interdisciplinary approach to change.”

But one taste of policy entrepreneurship wasn’t enough. “Once I finished [the policy memo], I just wanted more,” he says.

Luckily for Gillespie – FAS was growing right along with him, and soon announced its Policy Entrepreneurship Fellowship (PEF). Again, Gillespie jumped at the opportunity. The fellowship’s aim was to empower and guide Day One memo authors to gain further traction for their policy ideas among practitioners and decision-makers, and pursue more opportunities for impact.

Gillespie was selected for the inaugural PEF cohort, and used his fellowship to craft a short film documenting the impact of redlining in several different cities. He says FAS gave him not only the tools but also the freedom to explore different ways to make an impact.

“That’s one reason I’ve had such a great time,” he says. “I’m going to come into a space and be myself completely, and FAS has supported me in taking that wherever it goes, whether it’d be a film or whether it be a white paper.”

While he’d love to see his policy proposal addressing redlining become law or end up in an Executive Order from the President, Gillespie says another way to make an impact is through relationships.

“I’m helping to build an ecosystem of actors who are doing this work – people in cities who are making these moves,” he says. “I was really able to see that it’s not that the work is not being done, – it’s that I didn’t see how much work was being done. Now it comes down to connecting those ecosystems and supporting those movements.”

Next, Gillespie will be honing his interdisciplinary approach to making a policy impact within government as a Food Supply Chain Impact Fellow at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“The coolest part of my experience has been – how my creativity was supported, and how that led to doors opening to opportunities that could help the nation in a different way than I expected.”

Restarting the Palisades Nuclear Plant and Keeping Momentum on Clean Energy

The Department of Energy (DOE) announced recently that it will finance the restart of a nuclear power plant through a new program to revitalize energy infrastructure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Restarting the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant, which was shut down in 2022, will be the first restarted nuclear power plant in U.S. history, bringing back much needed clean firm energy supply to Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana. DOE estimates that the addition of this clean capacity will prevent yearly emissions equivalent to that emitted by nearly one million gas-powered cars. The plant owners also shared intentions to use existing infrastructure to build two small modular reactors, a newer type of reactor technology that can be deployed more flexibly than existing commercial light-water reactors. DOE’s announcement is a significant step in addressing emerging energy needs and reducing emissions, but more is needed to ensure a successful plant restart and to expand clean energy capacity broadly.

Nuclear power was commercialized in the U.S. in the 1950s, and electricity generated by this technology accounts today for about 19% of the country’s electricity supply. Nuclear is a baseload power source, also called clean firm power, that complements generation from intermittent sources such as wind and solar energy. But in many cases, nuclear energy struggles to compete economically with other energy sources. The original decision to close the Palisades was primarily financial. Consumers Energy, the utility that purchased energy from the plant, intended to replace the nuclear energy with natural gas, which is ample and inexpensive. The dynamic is not unique—utilities are using more fossil fuels as the grid attempts to respond to a rapid increase in demand. But commercial light-water reactors, like those at the Palisades, are the most mature clean technology option to meet near-term energy needs while reducing emissions. The federal government should shape the market for nuclear power, or risk more plants shutting down—and making ambitious emissions reductions goals likely impossible to meet. 

The conditional commitment from the DOE Loan Programs Office (LPO) to finance the Palisades restart ensures nuclear power is cost-competitive, and this particular type of loan is an important tool for DOE to develop and deploy more clean energy technologies. Since the loans are conditional on the companies meeting agreed-upon commitments, the arrangement allows DOE to closely monitor progress and halt funding if the project does not meet expectations. The LPO, established by Congress in 2005 to invest in critical energy and infrastructure projects, has found much success, especially with an increase in funding from the recent Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Since the IRA passed in 2022, LPO has issued over $16 billion in conditional commitments and disbursed over $30 billion. The office’s approaches to lending seem to work well—for FY2023, they reported actual losses of only 3.1% of total funds disbursed. Other examples of recent conditional commitments include a real-time methane emissions monitoring network and a solar energy storage microgrid, reflecting investments across key clean energy technologies. But the Palisades commitment is unique as it is the first issued through DOE’s Energy Infrastructure Reinvestment program, which has $250 billion available to fund clean energy projects that revitalize or replace existing infrastructure. The $1.5 billion loan to Palisades will help fund refurbishment, upgrades, and testing to operate the plant for an estimated 25 years. Since the initial appropriations for this program expire in September of 2026, the DOE should act quickly to finance similar projects that revitalize existing infrastructure.

Outside of loans, the federal government can do more to support the restart and ensure other nuclear plants continue generating clean baseload energy for as long as safely possible. Next, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) will need to amend the license of a plant it already classified in a state of decommissioning. The NRC formed the Palisades Restart Panel (PRP) to advise on the reviews required for this new regulatory situation. Although the primary objective of the PRP is to advise on the Palisades, NRC gave the panel the option to provide general recommendations if other licensees pursue a restart. Twenty other nuclear power reactor sites are in decommissioning status. To provide clarity to the nuclear industry on options for these sites, the panel should take advantage of this opportunity to advise generally on a process for restarts. The DOE should also signal whether it intends to make further investments in this area. This first-of-kind project could demonstrate that restarting plants is a fast and economical way to increase clean firm generating capacity.

Federal policymakers, agencies, and the private sector should consider additional options for expanding nuclear capacity at this moment when nuclear power is viewed favorably by most of the public and partisan division is low. For example, utilities could form consortiums to build multiple reactors of the same design, reducing risk and cost with the construction of each new reactor. The DOE could mass-acquire NRC permits on behalf of developers, or use the Foundation for Energy Security and Innovation (FESI) to accelerate licensing through stakeholder and community engagement. Congress could also consider categorical exclusions under the National Environmental Policy Act for actions that use existing energy infrastructure and have a net positive benefit to the environment, such as building nuclear power plants on former coal plant sites. The LPO has nearly $412 billion in loan authority to advance clean energy. It should continue to negotiate and award conditional commitments for more clean energy projects across the country, working closely with applicants and recipients to ensure adequate progress and effective use of taxpayer dollars. Other federal policymakers should keep momentum on DOE’s commitment to Palisades with further actions to keep nuclear power on the grid.

Bold Goals Require Bold Funding Levels. The FY25 Requests for the U.S. Bioeconomy Fall Short

Over the past year, there has been tremendous momentum in policy for the U.S. bioeconomy – the collection of advanced industry sectors, like pharmaceuticals, biomanufacturing, and others, with biology at their core. This momentum began in part with the Bioeconomy Executive Order (EO) and the programs authorized in CHIPS and Science, and continued with the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) release of the Bold Goals for U.S. Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing (Bold Goals) report. The report highlighted ambitious goals that the Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Commerce (DOC), Human Health Services (HHS), National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) have committed to in order to further the U.S. bioeconomical enterprise.

However, these ambitious goals set by various agencies in the Bold Goals report will also require directed and appropriate funding, and this is where we have been falling short. Multiple bioeconomy-related programs were authorized through the bipartisan CHIPS & Science legislation but have yet to receive anywhere near their funding targets. Underfunding and the resulting lack of capacity has also led to a delay in the tasks under the Bioeconomy EO. In order for the bold goals outlined in the report to be realized, it will be imperative for the U.S. to properly direct and fund the many different endeavors under the U.S. bioeconomy.

Despite this need for funding for the U.S. bioeconomy, the recently-completed FY2024 (FY24) appropriations were modest for some science agencies but abysmal for others, with decreases seen across many different scientific endeavors across agencies. The DOC, and specifically the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), saw massive cuts in funding base program funding, with earmarks swamping core activities in some accounts. 

There remains some hope that the FY2025 (FY25) budget will alleviate some of the cuts that have been seen to science endeavors, and in turn, to programs related to the bioeconomy. But the strictures of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, which contributed to the difficult outcomes in FY24, remain in place for FY25 as well.

Bioeconomy in the FY25 Request

With this difficult context in mind, the Presidential FY25 Budget was released as well as the FY25 budgets for DOE, DOC, HHS, NSF, and USDA

The President’s Budget makes strides toward enabling a strong bioeconomy by prioritizing synthetic biology metrology and standards within NIST and by directing OSTP to establish the Initiative Coordination Office to support the National Engineering Biology Research and Development Initiative. However, beyond these two instances, the President’s budget only offers limited progress for the bioeconomy because of mediocre funding levels.

The U.S. bioeconomy has a lot going on, with different agencies prioritizing different areas and programs depending on their jurisdiction. This makes it difficult to properly grasp all the activity that is ongoing (but we’re working on it, stay tuned!). However, we do know that the FY25 budget requests from the agencies themselves have been a mix bag for bioeconomy activities related to the Bold Goals Report. Some agencies are asking for large appropriations, while some agencies are not investing enough to support these goals:

Department of Energy supports Bold Goals Report efforts in biotech & biomanufacturing R&D to further climate change solutions

The increase in funding levels requested for FY25 for BER and MESC will enable increased biotech and biomanufacturing R&D, supporting DOE efforts to meet its proposed objectives in the Bold Goals Report.

Department of Commerce falls short in support of biotech & biomanufacturing R&D supply chain resilience

One budgetary increase request is offset by two flat funding levels.

Department of Agriculture falls short in support of biotech & biomanufacturing R&D to further food & Ag innovation

Human Health Services falls short in support of biotech & biomanufacturing R&D to further human health

National Science Foundation supports Bold Goals Report efforts in biotech & biomanufacturing R&D to further cross-cutting advances

* FY23 amounts are listed due to FY24 appropriations not being finalized at the time that this document was created.

Overall, the DOE and NSF have asked for FY25 budgets that could potentially achieve the goals stated in the Bold Goals Report, while the DOC, USDA and HHS have unfortunately limited their budgets and it remains questionable if they will be able to achieve the goals listed with the funding levels requested. The DOC, and specifically NIST, faces one of the biggest challenges this upcoming year. NIST has to juggle tasks assigned to it from the AI EO as well as the Bioeconomy EO and the Presidential Budget. The 8% decrease in funding for NIST does not paint a promising picture for either the Bioeconomy EO and should be something that Congress rectifies when they enact their appropriation bills. Furthermore, the USDA faces cuts in funding for vital programs related to their goals and AgARDA continues to be unfunded. In order for USDA to achieve the goals listed in the Bold Goals report, it will be imperative that Congress prioritize these areas for the benefit of the U.S. bioeconomy.

CHIPS and Science Funding Gaps Continues to Stifle Scientific Competitiveness

The bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act sought to accelerate U.S. science and innovation, to let us compete globally and solve problems at home. The multifold CHIPS approach to science and tech reached well beyond semiconductors: it authorized long-term boosts for basic science and education, expanded the geography of place-based innovation, mandated a whole-of-government science strategy, and other moves.

But appropriations in FY 2024, and the strictures of the Fiscal Responsibility Act in FY 2025, make clear that we’re falling well short of CHIPS aspirations. The ongoing failure of the U.S. to invest comes at a time when our competitors continue to up their investments in science, with China pledging 10% growth in investment, the EU setting forth new strategies for biotechnology and manufacturing, and Korea’s economy approaching 5% R&D investment intensity, far more than the U.S.

Research Agency Funding Shortfalls 

In the aggregate, CHIPS and Science authorized three research agencies – the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy Office of Science (DOE SC), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) – to receive $26.8 billion in FY 2024 and $28.8 billion in FY 2025, representing substantial growth in both years. But appropriations have increasingly underfunded the CHIPS agencies, with a gap now over $8 billion (see graph).

appropriations have increasingly underfunded the CHIPS agencies, with a gap now over $8 billion

The table below shows agency funding data in greater detail, including FY 2023 and FY 2024 appropriations, the FY 2025 CHIPS authorization, and the FY 2025 request.

The National Science Foundation is experiencing the largest gap between CHIPS targets and actual appropriations following a massive year-over-year funding reduction in FY 2024. That cut is partly the result of appropriators rescuing NSF in FY 2023 with over $1 billion in supplemental spending to support both NSF base activities and implementation of the Technology, Innovation and Partnerships Directorate (TIP). While that spending provided NSF a welcome boost in FY 2023, it could not be replicated in FY 2024, and NSF only received a modest boost in base appropriations. As a result, the full year-over-decline for NSF amounted to over $800 million, which will likely mean cutbacks in both core and TIP (the exact distribution is to be determined though Congress called for an even-handed approach). It also means a CHIPS shortfall of $6.5 billion in both FY 2024 and FY 2025.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology also requires some additional explanation. Like NSF, NIST received some supplemental spending for both lab programs and industrial innovation in FY 2023, but NIST also has been subject to quite substantial earmarks in FY 2023 and FY 2024, as seen in the table above. The presence of earmarks in FY 2024 meant, in practice, a nearly $100 million reduction in funding for core NIST lab programs, which cover a range of activities in measurement science and emerging technology areas.

The Department of Energy’s Office of Science fared better than the other two in the omnibus with a modest increase, but still faces a $1.5 billion shortfall below CHIPS targets in the White House request. 

Select Account Shortfalls

National Science Foundation

Core research. Excluding the newly-created TIP Directorate, purchasing power of core NSF research activities in biology, computing, engineering, geoscience, math and physical sciences, and social science dropped by over $300 million between FY 2021 and FY2023. If the FY 2024 funding cuts are distributed proportionally across directorates, their collective purchasing power would have dropped by over $1 billion all-in between FY 2021 and the present, representing a decline of more than 15%. This would also represent a shortfall of $2.9 billion below the CHIPS target for FY 2024, and will likely result in hundreds of fewer research awards.

STEM Education. While not quite as large as core research, NSF’s STEM directorate has still lost over 8% of its purchasing power since FY 2021, and remains $1.3 billion below its CHIPS target after a 15% year-over-year cut in the FY 2024 omnibus. This cut will likely mean hundreds of fewer graduate fellowships and other opportunities for STEM support, let alone multimillion-dollar shortfalls in CHIPS funding targets for programs like CyberCorps and Noyce teacher scholarships. The minibus did allocate $40 million for the National STEM Teacher Corps pilot program established in CHIPS, but implementing this carveout will pose challenges in light of funding cuts elsewhere.

TIP Programs. FY 2023 funding fell over $800 million shy of the CHIPS target for the new technology directorate, which had been envisioned to grow rapidly but instead will now have to deal with fiscal retrenchment. Several items established in CHIPS remain un- or under-funded. For instance, NSF Entrepreneurial Fellowships have received only $10 million from appropriators to date out of $125 million total authorized, while Centers for Transformative Education Research and Translation – a new initiative intended to research and scale educational innovations – has gotten no funding to date. Also underfunded are the Regional Innovation Engines (see below).

Department of Energy

Microelectronics Centers. While the FY 2024 picture for the Office of Science (SC) is perhaps not quite as stark as it is for NSF – partly because SC didn’t enjoy the benefit of a big but transient boost in FY 2023 – there remain underfunded CHIPS priorities throughout. One more prominent initiative is DOE’s Microelectronics Science Research Centers, intended to be a multidisciplinary R&D network for next-generation science funded across the SC portfolio. CHIPS authorized these at $25 million per center per year.

Fission and Fusion. Fusion energy was a major priority in CHIPS and Science, which sought among other things expansion of milestone-based development to achieve a fusion pilot plant. But following FY 2024 appropriations, the fusion science program continues to face a more than $200 million shortfall, and DOE’s proposal for a stepped-up research network – now dubbed the Fusion Innovation Research Engine (FIRE) centers – remains unfunded. CHIPS and Science also sought to expand nuclear research infrastructure at the nation’s universities, but the FY 2024 omnibus provided no funding for the additional research reactors authorized in CHIPS.

Clean Energy Innovation. CHIPS Title VI authorized a wide array of energy innovation initiatives – including clean energy business vouchers and incubators, entrepreneurial fellowships, a regional energy innovation program, and others. Not all received a specified funding authorization, but those that did have generally not yet received designated line-item appropriations. 


In addition to the funding challenges for NIST lab programs described above – which are critical for competitiveness in emerging technology – NIST manufacturing programs also continue to face shortfalls, of $192 million in the FY 2024 omnibus and over $500 million in the FY 2025 budget request.

Regional Innovation

As envisioned when CHIPS was signed, three major place-based innovation and economic development programs – EDA’s Regional Technology and Innovation Hubs (Tech Hubs), NSF’s Regional Innovation Engines (Engines), and EDA’s Distressed Area Recompete Pilot Program (Recompete) – would be moving from exclusively planning and selection into implementation phases as well in FY25. But with recent budget announcements, some implementation may need to be scaled back from what was originally planned, putting at risk our ability to rise to the confluence of economic and industrial challenges we face.

EDA Tech Hubs. In October 2023, the Biden-Harris administration announced the designation of 31 inaugural Tech Hubs and 29 recipients of Tech Hubs Strategy Development Grants from nearly 400 applicants. These 31 Tech Hubs designees were chosen for their potential to become ​​global centers of innovation and job creators. Upon announcement, the designees were then able to apply to receive implementation grants of $40-$70 million to each of approximately 5-10 of the designated Tech Hubs. Grants are expected to be announced in summer 2024.

The FY 2025 budget request for Tech Hubs includes $41 million in discretionary spending to fund additional grants to the existing designees, and another $4 billion in mandatory spending – spread over several years – to allow for additional Tech Hubs designees and strategy development grants. CHIPS and Science authorized the Hubs at $10 billion in total, but the program has only received 5% of this in actual appropriations to date. The FY25 request would bring total program funding up to 46% of the authorization. 

The ambitious goal of Tech Hubs is to restore the U.S. position as a leader in critical technology development, but this ambition is dependent on our ability to support the quantity and quality of the program as originally envisioned. Without meeting the funding expectations set in CHIPS, the Tech Hubs’ ability to restore American leadership will be vastly limited. 

NSF Engines. In January 2024, NSF announced the first NSF Engines awards to 10 teams across the United States. Each NSF Engine will receive an initial $15 million over the next two years with the potential to receive up to $160 million each over the next decade.

Beyond those 10 inaugural Engines awards, a selection of applicants were invited to apply for NSF Engines development awards, with each receiving up to $1 million to support team-building, partnership development, and other necessary steps toward future NSF Engines proposals. NSF’s initial investment in the 10 awardee regions is being matched almost two to one in commitments from local and state governments, other federal agencies, private industry, and philanthropy. NSF previously announced 44 Development Awardees in May 2023.

To bolster the efforts of NSF Engines, NSF also announced the Builder Platform in September 2023, which serves as a post-award model to provide resources, support, and engagement to awardees. 

The FY25 request level for NSF Engines is $205 million, which will support up to 13 NSF Regional Innovation Engines. While this $205 million would be a welcome addition – especially in light of the funding risks and uncertainty in FY24 mentioned above – total funding to date is considerably below CHIPS aspirations, accounting for just over 6% of authorized funding. 

EDA Recompete. The EDA Recompete Program, authorized for up to $1 billion in the CHIPS and Science Act, aims to allocate resources towards economically disadvantaged areas and create good jobs. By targeting regions where prime-age (25-54 years) employment lags behind the national average, the program seeks to revitalize communities long overlooked, bridging the gap through substantial and flexible investments.

Recompete received $200 million in appropriations in 2023 for the initial competition. This competition received 565 applications, with total requests exceeding $6 billion. Of those applicants, 22 Phase 1 Finalists were announced in December 2023. 

Recompete Finalists are able to apply for the Phase 2 Notice of Funding Opportunity and are provided access to technical assistance support for their plans. In Phase 2, EDA will make approximately 4-8 implementation investments, with awarded regions receiving between $20 to $50 million on average.

Alongside the 22 Finalists, Recompete Strategy Development Grant recipients were announced. These grants support applicant communities in strategic planning and capacity building. 

Following a shutout in FY 2024 appropriations, Recompete funding in the FY25 request is $41 million, bringing total funding to date to $241 million or just over 24% of authorized funding.

Congress will soon have the chance to rectify these collective shortfalls, with FY 2025 appropriations legislation coming down the pike soon. But the November elections throw substantial uncertainty over what was already a difficult situation. If Congress can’t muster the votes necessary to properly fund CHIPS and Science programs, U.S. competitiveness will continue to suffer.

Policy Entrepreneurship to Address Today’s Biggest Challenges

What started in 1945 as the Federation of Atomic Scientists – an organization wholly dedicated to eradicating the existential risk of nuclear weapons – now takes on a broader set of massively important and overlooked policy priorities as the Federation of American Scientists (FAS). FAS envisions a world where science, technology, ideas and talent are deployed to solve the biggest challenges of our time.

What distinguishes our work is the approach we bring to these issues, unlocking progress through “policy entrepreneurship” even in areas where tractability has long been elusive. 

While ‘policy entrepreneurship’ can take many forms, at FAS we believe that it starts with an understanding that many policymakers are motivated to drive change, but lack the capacity, expertise, and often, talent. The best policy proposals need to go beyond an initial idea to solve for those challenges as well.

When it comes to expertise – through its Day One publishing platform, FAS sources the best policy ideas from scientists and policy experts, and then helps these policy entrepreneurs refine their ideas and include implementation-ready action plans.

To help further foster blossoming policy entrepreneurs, FAS created its Policy Entrepreneurship Fellowship (PEF) to help participants take their policy memos from ideas to reality. During a six-month experience, hosted by FAS in partnership with the Aspen Institute, each PEF works as a part-time FAS affiliate to (i) help their specific ideas gain traction among practitioners and decision makers, and (ii) identify and pursue opportunities for impact in underlying policy areas of interest. PEF participants receive a $5,000 stipend as well as ongoing guidance from policy and technical experts in the FAS community, opportunities for formal training on topics like budgetary analysis and science communication, access to FAS programming and facilities, professional editing services, and more.

The PEF program has helped budding technologists and scientists recognize their potential to drive significant change at the federal level, and continues to pay dividends for the growing network of policy entrepreneurs surrounding FAS. Three members of the initial cohort of PEFs, Monica Sanders, Christopher Gillespie, Grace Wickerson, and Alexa White, have followed their fellowship experiences by deepening their involvement with federal policymaking – but each in different, but similarly impressive, ways. This series will briefly introduce you to their work.

Policy Entrepreneurship Profiles
Building a Digital Justice Framework: Monica Sanders
read more
Building Ecosystems: Christopher Gillespie
read more
Building Environmental Justice: Alexa White
read more
Coming soon

Regulations, funding, and knowledge gaps: Challenges and opportunities in bringing agricultural biotechnology to market

Innovations in agriculture will play an increasingly important role in America’s quest to ensure resilient and sustainable production of food, medicine, and bioenergy products. Biotechnology, spurred by advances such as cheap sequencing, offers a realm of possibilities for novel agricultural inputs, such as more targeted pesticides that are less toxic and less likely to cause tolerance, less carbon-intensive alternatives to fertilizers, and more climate-resilient crop varieties. 

However, research and development of new agricultural biotech products can be expensive and time-consuming, due to the large physical scale and long timelines of field trials. At the same time, federal funding for agriculture research has historically paled in comparison to funding for defense, energy, and human health. For example, in 2022, the NIH’s R&D budget was more than 16 times that of the USDA’s. 

The Biden administration has demonstrated its recognition of the need to accelerate research and development in agricultural biotechnology, featuring it prominently in 2022’s Executive Order on Advancing Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Innovation for a Sustainable, Safe, and Secure American Bioeconomy. Additionally, a bill to expand authorization of funding for a moonshot USDA research grant program, AgARDA (Agriculture Advanced Research and Development Authority), has broad bipartisan support. At the same time, there has been a commensurate increase in private funding

While this multi-front surge in enthusiasm and investment is welcome, many challenges remain in translating money, ideas, and laboratory results to the field and the market, including communication between the various stakeholders in agricultural biotechnology R&D. To better understand industry priorities and potential barriers to progress, we spoke to members of the executive team of Fall Line Capital (FLC), a venture capital (VC) and private equity firm that invests in food/agriculture startups. Fall Line’s investments include new biopesticides (Greenlight, Micropep), functional microbes (Pluton, Wild Microbes), and new equipment (Guardian Agriculture, Rantizo, LUMO), in addition to managing a farmland portfolio. As lifelong farmers as well as agriculture technology (agtech) investors, Clay Mitchell and Scott Day offer a multifaceted perspective on the current landscape.

We then outline actions for government actors that can address the challenges identified in our interview, in three key areas: regulatory oversight, federal R&D funding, and bioliteracy.

Q: What can the U.S. government do to provide a supportive landscape for new agricultural biotechnology?

Fall Line Capital: I think the biggest hurdles are regulatory. If the government wants to be truly supportive and innovative, it should be working to revamp the convoluted regulatory environment. The current system wasn’t designed to handle all the new technology being developed with novel mechanisms of action, so hurdles to creating and commercializing stifle innovation even more than they did in the past. 

Looking at new technology like RNA– and micropeptide-based pesticides, it’s been a difficult process to get those products registered, even though they should be embraced: compared to conventional pesticides, they have the potential to be highly specific to the target organism and minimally toxic to non-target organisms. During GreenLight’s discussions with the EPA to register their RNAi biopesticide for tackling invasive potato beetles, the EPA seemed to understand that this sort of technology is the future, but movement through the registration approval process was slow nevertheless; the application sat there for five 5 years. There were dozens of other biological pesticide product applications, and the EPA had to give every application the same level of scrutiny, even if many were obviously ineffective. There’s pressure to register more biological products as a prominent alternative to traditional chemical products, despite generally low efficacy. This clutters up the process, and the EPA was already short-staffed after extensive attrition during COVID. 

A substantial amount of the innovation is coming from small companies like Greenlight that don’t have the resources (which many of the large incumbent ag companies have) to navigate the current registration programs and protocols, which are spread across multiple agencies involved in regulating biotechnology: the USDA, EPA, and FDA. There needs to be a new concierge resource beyond what the Unified Website for Biotechnology Regulation currently provides, that could direct you to the right office, the right registration process, as well as appropriate funding opportunities and legal resources.

Q: What do you think are currently the most pressing challenges in agriculture?

FLC: Pest resistance continues to be a very serious concern in agriculture, so new and effective control measures need to be continually developed for all pests: weeds, insects, disease. There are two major pests of concern for my own farm in Western Canada. First, herbicide-resistant kochia weed, which has become a huge problem in the last five years all across the world. No one’s sure how exactly it spread so quickly. Second, flea beetles are decimating cruciferous crops. RNAi-based insecticides could be very effective here, if we can achieve sufficient persistence of the insecticide and avoid impacting non-target species.

In terms of challenges to agriculture-based businesses, there’s a lack of funding right now for getting tech to market. Funding for agtech from VC firms fell last year, as it did for most forms of tech. This was  following a very strong period of agtech funding for the previous two years, during which we saw over-investment in several sectors, such as alternative meat and indoor farming. At the same time, agtech companies typically have long timelines to product launch and need more funding than just one VC can provide. Right now, many companies who come to Fall Line for money are just looking for short-term “bridge funding” so they can make payroll and buy time until they can demonstrate enough progress to raise a successful “series” round with good valuation and favorable investment terms. And no one is going public right now.

Q: What are common knowledge gaps for agtech startups regarding farmers’ needs?

FLC: Agtech startups are often centered around a great idea or technology that’s looking for a problem to solve — but it’s hard for a specific technology to meet the needs of a variable problem. Farmers’ needs and priorities (e.g. pests, nutrients, etc.) are incredibly diverse, varying dramatically by crop and location, even from one field to the next on the same farm, or even within the same field. Today, it is very hard to get an accurate understanding of what is needed or desired at the farm level because there is no easy way to connect with growers on a broad scale. Farm papers have diminished in popularity just like mainstream papers, radio has diminished as well. Unless you have the email address or cell phone number of a farmer, it is hard to connect directly with them now, and most farmers don’t like doing surveys of any type anyway — and those that do aren’t that representative of the industry. I think this is why most types of polls are becoming less accurate as it is increasingly more difficult to get a representative sample of opinions. 

Farmers can be hesitant to adopt new technologies, since the risk can be high. And once they’ve been burned once by a product that failed to work as advertised, they’re unlikely to be willing to trust that company, or even that type of product, in the future. For example, last year, North Dakota State University scientists coordinated a large-scale field trial where it showed in a large field trial that most new biological products aimed at improving nitrogen-fixation in non-legume crops were ineffective at increasing yield. In general, the efficacy of biologicals can vary greatly depending on the exact field conditions, making it hard to reliably achieve the advertised result. There’s a huge jump from greenhouse results to field trials, another huge jump from field trials to commercial fields. But when a product’s value is obvious, farmers actually embrace new technology very quickly: both GMO crops and GPS achieved widespread adoption in a very short period of time.

Finally, technology developers should keep in mind that problems can be solved by old or simple technology. When people think about controlled-environment farming, their minds jump to fancy things like vertical farming — but with irrigation and mulch films, you’re 90% of the way there. Simply by adding a mulch film to heat the soil, farmers can greatly extend the growing season in northern climates by a month. This approach allowed us us to substantially increase the yield from our corn fields in Wisconsin.

This conversation illustrates a clear need for change in three key areas:

Federal funding for agricultural R&D

Given the unreliability of private market funding for agricultural biotechnology R&D, which often entails long turnaround times and low margins relative to traditional tech companies, substantial federal funding through research programs such as AgARDA is vital for accelerating R&D. AgARDA, based on the ARPA Advanced Research Projects Agency model, would allow the USDA to support the development of transformative technologies for focus areas of its choosing. However, despite its popularity, AgARDA, which was first authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill for $50 million annually for FY2019-2023, only received $2m in that timeframe. The USDA requested $5m for AgARDA in FY2022 and again in FY2023; it only received $1m each year. By contrast, ARPA-H, the human health equivalent, was authorized in FY2022 and immediately received its full $1 billion authorization, followed by $1.5b in FY2023. 

The USDA has published an implementation framework for AgARDA. Unfortunately, misalignment between USDA and Congress appears to be preventing AgARDA from being fully funded to its authorized levels. Members of the Congressional agriculture committees want the USDA to show that it has made progress with the $2m it has received before they allocate additional funding, namely the appointment of a dedicated director and initiation of a pilot program with calls for grant proposals. However, the USDA has deemed the $2m insufficient to support long-term staff or a formal grant program, especially since the appropriations require annual renewal. The current impasse means that no AgARDA projects have been rolled out, despite the pressing nature of the research priorities identified by the USDA.  

The following steps should be taken for AgARDA to achieve its full potential:

Regulatory oversight

The U.S. regulatory system for biotechnology needs to be a) expanded, with funding for a larger agency staff to process applications quickly; b) updated, to be flexible such that it can accommodate new-to-market technologies; and c) coordinated, to streamline approval processes. 

The National Security Commission on Emerging Biotechnology (NSCEB) addresses these unmet needs in its interim report. First, NSCEB is “considering options to facilitate higher staffing levels”; this should be made a priority. 

Second, concerning regulatory oversight, NSCEB identified three potential paths for improvement:

Of these, the hybrid approach would likely provide the greatest flexibility. In contrast, discrete changes to individual statutes will likely involve slow, piecemeal changes that can easily become outdated again. While a unified regulatory process may be more streamlined, the report’s phrasing creates a sharp binary delineation between biotech and conventional that does not reflect reality. Such a delineation could engender a lot of wasted time debating biotech versus conventional classification for a given product. 

Finally, to address intra- and interagency coordination, the NSCEB presented two Farm Bill amendments that deserve Congressional support: the Biotechnology Oversight Coordination Act and the Agriculture Biotechnology Coordination Act.

Bioliteracy and agricultural education

Market demand and regulations are informed by consumer perceptions, which then impact R&D decisions. For example, fear of consumer and regulatory backlash can dissuade companies from investing in new genetic engineering technology for developing new plant varieties, despite their potential to improve agricultural sustainability. Increased bioliteracy across the American public would help consumers, businesses, and policymakers alike better understand new biotechnologies and engage with the burgeoning bioeconomy. This is a need that the NSCEB has also highlighted. At the K-12 level, improvements could comprise updating science curriculums to include contemporary topics like gene editing, as well as amending civics curriculums to better explain the modern functions of regulatory agencies. In addition, agricultural education can be embedded into biology and earth science curriculums to reconnect the public at large with the realities faced by producers. Similar to computer science literacy improvements through standard setting and funding, bioliteracy can be improved through state-level education initiatives.

The Federation of American Scientists values diversity of thought and believes that a range of perspectives — informed by evidence — is essential for discourse on scientific and societal issues. Contributors allow us to foster a broader and more inclusive conversation. We encourage constructive discussion around the topics we care about.

Building a Digital Justice Framework: FAS Policy Entrepreneur Fellow Monica Sanders

What is policy entrepreneurship? It is the practice of recognizing a problem and proposing a solution through policy. It is central to our work at FAS and our Day One Project, which presents actionable plans to every presidential administration, ready for implementation starting on “day one.” Submit your policy ideas to one of our ongoing idea challenges.

Monica Sanders is a FAS policy entrepreneur fellow (PEF) originally from Louisiana. Her stellar career of service includes work as a lawyer, scholar, and founder of The Undivide Project. Undivide is an organization dedicated to the legal and policy changes needed to address the intersections between digital and climate equity. One Undivide initiative uses IoT (internet of things) to build climate resilience solutions in disaster-impacted communities. It was through this work that she originally connected with FAS.

Building a Digital Justice Framework

“Since I started my organization, I have been pondering this concept of digital justice and what it means in a world that is increasingly digitized and climate-impacted at the same time. Broadly, I decided that the components would be: democratized access to information, economic opportunity, and training for future and equitable access to resilience-building resources,” she explains. 

This realization brought her to the FAS Day One Project, where she formalized her ideas into a policy memo titled Using A Digital Justice Framework To Improve Disaster Preparation And Response. In it she outlines both the needs for this framework in the context of climate-driven weather disasters, and proposes solutions for implementation.

The memo development process introduced Monica to scientists and technologists who agreed with her thesis and saw similar needs in the disaster-relief capacity of the government. The result was a second policy memo, jointly authored with Shefali Juneja Lakhina and Melanie Gall:, Increasing National Resilience Through An Open Disaster Data Initiative. It advocates for enhanced data-sharing across government to more quickly and effectively respond to emergencies.

“Green Jobs”: Ever-Growing Yet Invisible Classification

After joining as an FAS Fellow, Monica continued her digital justice work with a focus on “green” technology-focused jobs and opportunities. While “green jobs” are an ever-expanding growth area, the government’s official “green jobs” classification in the Bureau Labor Statistics (BLS) was frozen after 2013. In effect, she argues, these jobs are invisible.

The classification needs updating, she says, to include a broader range of federal jobs that are essential to fighting climate change and which are evolving rapidly with the advent of technology. Updating BLS job classification is crucial for measuring effectiveness of government programs to deploy job opportunities more equitably across the country. Though BLS is largely known for publishing the unemployment numbers, the agency is doing a lot of work critical to fighting climate change.

“These are important to resource allocations at the state and local level and to send signals about the contours of certain jobs and industries to stakeholders outside of government,” she explains. She details why updating the BLS to define “green” and “tech” jobs are necessary to deploy job opportunities at scale in Revitalizing Federal Jobs Data: Unleashing the Potential of Emerging Roles. 

Policy Entrepreneurship a Path to Change 

Monica’s work as a PEF involves a lot of research and outreach. “For me, two of the most important aspects of the fellowship were the engagement and learning opportunities. I had never thought about policy in an entrepreneurial way, nor had a deep dive into how to manage some of these nuanced relationships. I worked in the legislature, but my role was mainly about looking at the constitutionality and legality of certain issues, not in designing interdisciplinary and inter- and intra-governmental initiatives.”

She encourages people to consider policy entrepreneurship as a path to change.

“Litigation can take years if an issue even makes it to court. Administrative orders and rulemaking are often retroactive — meaning the solution comes after a harm has happened. With policy entrepreneurship there is an opportunity to 1) be proactive, and 2) make an impact in a reasonable amount of time. Given the number of existential crises we must collectively confront, I have found policy entrepreneurship to be a fruitful avenue towards doing some of that work.”