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Raising biomass crops? Here's help from Uncle Sam

Agriculture.com Staff 01/21/2010 @ 12:53pm

If you're interested in raising crops for biomass, there's a little-known federal program that can help you shoulder some of the financial risk in making the switch from program to energy crops.

The Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) was authorized by the 2008 farm bill and continues through 2012. It was designed, says University of Illinois Energy Biosciences Institute senior regulatory associate Jody Endres, as part of "comprehensive energy legislation to incentivize the production of biomass-based products to be marketed for fuel, heat, power and other products."

The BCAP comprises 2 main parts, the first being a Collection, Harvest, Storage and Transportation (CHST) provision. This measure provides a matching payment to "eligible material owners upon delivery of biomass crops to a qualified conversion facility," according to Endres. That material must be utilized "to produce heat, power, advanced biofuel or bio-based products" by the facility upon delivery.

"In order to receive payment for CHST, the facility must complete an application with the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) and the eligible material owner must submit an application in advance at their county FSA office," Endres says. "FSA will then approve and verify eligibility."

Thee payments administered by FSA began last fall and eligible farmers can can receive payments for 2 years.

The second leg of BCAP is the "Project Areas program" and is nearing implementation, Endres says. Once up and running, the program will provide up to 75% of the cost to establish perennial biomass crops.

"The 2008 farm bill requires USDA to designate 'project areas' before any payments for biomass production can be issued. A biomass conversion facility is required and producers must be 'within an economically feasible distance' to supply the facility's biomass needs," according to a report from the University of Illinois. "A proposal must be sent to FSA stating the facility will buy the crops, has sufficient equity, and is viable."

The proposal must also include a description of eligible land and crops, the report says. Under the Project Areas program, eligible land differs from CHST, which can cause some initial confusion. Eligible land is only private land not used for Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, Grassland Reserve Program, or land that has not had native sod after May 22, 2008. It excludes payments for Title I crops, and crops deemed noxious or invasive by federal or state law.

Once the proposal is sent to FSA, they will look at sustainability and the volume of biomass produced by the producers in the proposal and producers outside of the proposal, the report adds.

"FSA considers economic impacts, producer and local ownership of the biomass conversion facility and participation rate by new and socially disadvantaged farmers," Endres says. "They will also consider soil, water and related impacts as well as the variety of agronomic and cropping practices used."

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