USDA supports renewable biomass energy

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced support for agriculture producers and energy facilities working to turn renewable biomass materials into clean energy. The support comes through the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), which was reauthorized by the 2014 Farm Bill and will resume this summer.

The Farm Bill authorises $25 million (€18 million) annually for BCAP, requiring between 10 and 50% of the total funding to be used for harvest and transportation of biomass residues. Traditional food and feed crops are ineligible for assistance. The Bill also enacted several modifications for BCAP, including higher incentives for socially disadvantaged farmers, and narrower biomass qualifications for matching payments, among other changes.

'This initiative helps farmers and ranchers manage the financial risk of growing and harvesting energy biomass at commercial scale,' says Farm Service Agency Administrator, Juan Garcia. 'Investment in agricultural and forestry products who cultivate energy biomass and supporting next-generation biofuels facilities make America more energy independent, help combat climate change and create jobs in rural America.'

BCAP employs three types of biomass assistance. For growing new biomass, BCAP provides financial assistance with 50% of the cost of establishing a perennial crop. To maintain the crop as it matures until harvest, BCAP provides an annual payment for up to five years for herbaceous crops, or up to 15 years for woody crops. To collect existing agriculture or forest residues that are not economically retrievable, BCAP provides matching payments for mitigating the cost of harvesting and transporting the materials to the end-use facility.

'For forest residues, this year's matching payments are targeted for energy generation while reducing fire, insect and disease threats on Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands,' says Garcia. 'Agriculture residues for energy are also eligible for matching payments.'

'The potential to achieve transformational progress for biomass energy in rural America and generate tremendous economic opportunities is very promising,' Garcia adds. 'Energy crops occupy the space between production and conservation, providing opportunities for marginal land, crop diversity and more energy feedstock choices.'

The USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA), which administers BCAP, will coordinate BCAP enrollments. Information on funding availability will be published in an upcoming Federal Register notice.

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