August 28, 2015
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the availability of $7.7 million through the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) for producers to grow biomass for bioenergy production within four existing BCAP “project areas.” Project areas are geographic areas within which producers can establish and produce perennial biomass such as poplar, switchgrass, and sterile giant miscanthus. Project areas are associated with a bioenery production facility.
Expanding Participation in Existing Project Areas
Farmers, ranchers, and forest owners who fall within the following four existing project areas have until September 25, 2015 to apply through their local FSA office for establishment and production payments:
Creating New Projects
In addition to expanding production in these four areas, USDA is also accepting proposals for new project areas. Biomass energy facilities or groups of producers may submit proposals for new BCAP projects through Nov. 6, 2015. Visit USDA’s BCAP FAQ for more information about how to submit a project proposal.
USDA may award between 50 and 90 percent of annual BCAP funding to producers to establish and produce perennial biomass via BCAP projects, such as those listed above. The remainder of the funding is used to help producers connect with bioenergy facilities through the collection, harvest, storage and transportation of biomass residues (payments for these activities are referred to collectively as “matching payments”).
In June of 2015, USDA began accepting applications from foresters and farmers seeking matching payments for the removal of biomass residues from fields or national forests for delivery to energy generation facilities; the deadline for matching payment applications is Sept. 4, 2015. These payments are provided at a cost-share match of $1 for $1 up to $20 per dry ton. The eligible feed-stocks include corn residue, diseased or insect infested wood materials, or orchard waste. The receiving energy facility must be approved by USDA to accept the biomass crop, and deliveries to the facilities can continue until Dec. 11, 2015.
NSAC strongly believes that the establishment and maintenance of new, perennial energy crops is the more important part of BCAP and should consume the bulk of the farm bill funding for the program. We argued this point in our recent comments on the BCAP final rule, and continue to urge USDA to minimize the portion of funding that goes to the collection, harvest, storage, and transportation of residues such as corn stover. We hope USDA will provide the bulk of the farm bill funding for perennial energy crops grown as part of farm conservation systems starting with next year’s funding allocations.
Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2016
Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have passed their respective FY 2016 agriculture appropriations bills, though Congress has yet to finalize funding levels. The House bill cuts farm bill funding for BCAP in half, from $25 million to $12 million, while the Senate bill cuts funding by a whopping 88 percent, from $25 million to $3 million. We will track and report on the outcomes of appropriations negotiations as the process continues.