Vilsack urges extension of BCAP, other farm energy programs

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last week announced today the creation of four additional Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) project areas in six states. But he also used the occasion to urge that all farm-based energy programs be sustained, despite facing tough odds in a budget-cutting Congress. A recent CBO report points out that all 2008 Farm Bill energy title programs lose their funding baseline upon the bill’s expiration at the end of next year. Also, the House adopted a fiscal 2012 agricultural appropriations bill that zeroed out the BCAP program and severely slashed other farm energy programs. But Vilsack said that only in the last few years have federal programs been aggressively pursued in rural America to generate bioenergy crops and a new generation of biofuels, creating new jobs and providing economic benefits to farming operations. The payback is only just beginning to show, he said. “It’s important to get these resources out into the countryside, so that [policy makers] can see the opportunities they offer to create jobs, and farmers can see the economic benefits of producing non-food bioenergy crops that can be grown, even on marginally productive lands,” Vilsack said.

Despite the spending cuts proposed in the House, Vilsack said “funding is there” for the nine BCAP projects announced to date, including some $45 million allocated for the four projects announced this week. BCAP helps farmers and forest landowners with start-up costs of planting non-food energy crops for conversion to heat, power, biobased products and advanced biofuels. The four project areas announced Tuesday set aside acres in California, Kansas, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon and Washington for the production of non-food, renewable energy crops. The secretary cited industry estimates that show the projects will create more than 3,400 jobs in the biorefinery, agriculture and supporting sectors, and provide the feedstocks to produce more than 2 million gallons of biofuels annually, when full production levels are achieved.

Two of the new BCAP project areas, which will cover some 51,000 acres in California, Montana, Washington and Oregon, will grow camelina at a significant scale. Camelina, an oilseed, is a rotation crop for wheat that can be established on marginally productive land. Biofuel from camelina has been approved as a jet fuel substitute. Another BCAP project area will encourage growth of hybrid poplar trees in Oregon, with a goal of enrolling up to 7,000 acres surrounding a biomass conversion facility in Boardman, Ore. The fourth BCAP project area is in Kansas and Oklahoma, and has been designated to grow up to 20,000 acres of switchgrass around a future biomass conversion facility planned in Hugoton, Kan. For more information on the projects, click HERE. For more on BCAP, click HERE.