FAQ: USDA on June 9 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, or BCAP, which was reauthorized by the 2014 Farm Bill and will resume this summer. What will the new BCAP program look like?
Answer: U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on June 9 that USDA will begin accepting applications on June 16 from energy facilities interested in receiving forest or agricultural residues to generate clean energy. The support comes through the Biomass Crop Assistance Program or BCAP, which is authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.
BCAP provides financial assistance to farmers and ranchers who establish and maintain new crops of energy biomass, or who harvest and deliver forest or agricultural residues to a qualifying energy facility. Of the total $25 million per year authorized for BCAP, the 2014 Farm Bill provides up to 50% ($12.5 million) each year for matching payments for the harvest and transportation of biomass residues. BCAP matching payments will resume this summer, while crop incentives will begin in 2015.
Some matching payments will support the removal of dead or diseased trees from National Forests and Bureau of Land Management public lands. This will be turned into renewable energy while reducing the risk of forest fire. Agriculture residues, such as corn cobs and stalks, also may qualify as energy-producing feedstock.
USDA is now accepting applications from energy facilities
USDA's Farm Service Agency, which administers BCAP, will begin accepting applications from biomass conversion facilities beginning June 16, 2014 through July 14, 2014. FSA will coordinate BCAP enrollments.
"Removing dead or diseased trees from forests to use for biomass production creates clean energy while reducing the threat of forest fires and the spread of harmful insects and disease," said Vilsack. "Increasing our country's production of biomass energy also helps grow our economy. Food is made in rural America, but fuel is made in rural America, too. This program is yet another USDA investment in expanding markets for agricultural products made in rural places across the country."
With the 2014 Farm Bill requiring several regulatory updates to BCAP, the resumption of payments for starting and maintaining new sources of biomass (Project Areas) has been deferred until a later date when the regulatory updates occur.
Biomass energy facilities can apply June 16 through July 14
Information on funding availability can be found in the Federal Register notice at go.usa.gov/8FSH. For more details on applications and deadlines on BCAP, visit a local FSA county office or go online.
The 2014 Farm Bill authorizes $25 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 2014 Farm Bill also enacted several modifications for BCAP, including higher incentives for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, 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 FSA administrator Juan Garcia. "Investing in agricultural and forestry producers who cultivate energy biomass and supporting next-generation biofuels facilities makes America more energy independent, helps combat climate change and creates jobs in rural America."
Three types of biomass assistance will be offered
BCAP offers three types of biomass assistance:
1) For growing new biomass, BCAP will provide financial assistance of 50% of the cost of establishing a perennial crop;
2) 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;
3) To collect existing agriculture or forest residues that are not economically retrievable, BCAP provides matching payments for mitigating the cost of harvesting and transporting 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."
Energy crops can provide key benefits for rural areas
"The potential to achieve progress and develop biomass energy in rural America and generate tremendous economic opportunities is very promising," adds Garcia. "Energy crops occupy the space between production and conservation, providing opportunities for marginal land, crop diversity and more energy feedstock choices."
The Farm Bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers, he adds. Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing and community facilities to help improve quality of life in rural America. For more information, visit www.usda.gov/farmbill.