New Biomass Crop Assistance Program Projects Announced
July 28th, 2011
On Tuesday, July 26, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the selection of four new Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) projects. BCAP provides funding to farmers and other landowners who enter contracts to establish crops and trees suitable for use as biomass feedstock on land included in biomass project areas. Payments are made for the establishment of annual crops and perennial crops including trees, with additional maintenance payments for perennial crops.
Two of the new BCAP project focus on growing camelina on project areas in California, Montana, Washington and Oregon. Camelina is an oilseed that can be used in rotations with wheat. It can also be established on marginally productive land.
The project sponsors are Beaver Biodiesel, LLC and AltAir Fuels, LLC. Both companies intend to market fuel made from camelina as aviation fuels. The project has a target goal of 51,000 acres. The project areas are near biomass conversion facilities in Bakersfield, Calif., Tacoma, Wash., and Albany, Ore.
USDA is also funding a BCAP project in Oregon for the establishment of hybrid poplar trees on up to 7,000 acres in Oregon near a biomass conversion facility in Boardman, Oregon. The project sponsor ZeaChem will use the trees as energy feedstock.
The fourth project, sponsored by Abengoa Biofuels, will provide funding to farmers to grow switchgrass on up to 20,000 acres in a project area in Kansas and Oklahoma.
USDA has allocated approximately $45 million for the BCAP contracts that range from less than five years up to 15 years in the four project areas for producers who volunteer to enroll in BCAP. Producers who enter into BCAP contracts will be eligible for reimbursements of up to 75 percent of the establishment costs of the perennial energy crop, and up to five years of annual maintenance payments for herbaceous crops and up to 15 years for woody crops.
Farmers can signup from August 8 to September 16, 2011 to grow the crops in the four new project areas. Participating farmers will be required to develop conservation plans with assistance from the Natural Resources Conservation Service and other partners. Producers interested in participating in the project areas should contact their local Farm Service Agency (FSA) county office. Information is available on the BCAP webpage.
BCAP currently has a shaky future. In the final Continuing Resolution for FY2011 Appropriations, H.R. 1473, Congress capped the program at $112 million for this current fiscal year. In June, the House approved an FY2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill, H.R. 2112, which would zero out BCAP funding completely in FY2012. The Senate will not act on the agricultural appropriations bill until September. The program also has no funding allocated to it after the 2008 Farm Bill cycle comes to a close in 2012. Hence, for the program to continue into 2013 and beyond, the funding would need to be renewed in the 2012 Farm Bill.
NSAC was a strong supporter of BCAP in the 2008 Farm Bill but was greatly disappointed with USDA’s initial implementation of the program, which focused exclusively on large payments for the Collection, Harvest, Storage and Transportation (CHST) of residues from forests and croplands. In December 2010, the USDA Office of Inspector General issued a Report critical of the hasty roll-out of this CHST component.
Since the release of the Report, FSA has ceased approving new biomass facilities to receive CHST payments and is now focused on the projects component of BCAP. As noted in a recent publication of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, BCAP appears to be back on track with recently announced projects to fund the establishment of new biomass crops that could improve farming operations and conservation performance. The FSA also appears to be cooperating with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to ensure that BCAP project participants have sound conservation plans. If USDA continues on this track, BCAP could be worth fighting for in the next Farm Bill.