USDA Sets Aside 80,000 Acres for Biomass Crops

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the designation of nearly 80,000 acres in six different states for the production of non-food crops that can be converted into biofuels.

Four project areas in California, Kansas, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon and Washington will be set aside for growing camelina, hybrid poplar trees and switchgrass under the Agriculture Department’s Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP).

These designations add to five BCAP project areas announced earlier this year for up to 250,000 acres in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

These crops are the first-ever national investments in expanding U.S. biomass resources beyond corn and forestry to meet domestic energy security.

BCAP, created in the 2008 Farm Bill, 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. (House Republicans want to eliminate funding for the program in the 2012 budget.)

According to industry estimates, the newest project areas will create more than 3,400 renewable energy 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.

Jet Fuel, Oregon Poplars and Cellulosic Ethanol

Two of the new BCAP project areas, targeted for 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. The project has a target of 51,000 acres. The sponsors are Beaver Biodiesel, LLC and AltAir Fuels LLC. The project areas are near biomass conversion facilities in Bakersfield, Calif., Tacoma, Wash., and Albany, Ore.

Another BCAP project area, part of an effort sponsored by cellulosic biofuels company ZeaChem, will encourage growth of hybrid poplar trees in Oregon.

The goal is to enroll up to 7,000 acres. This project is part of a series of measures that comprise USDA’s Wood-to-Energy Initiative. It seeks to build a forest restoration economy by integrating energy feedstock within the larger forest products sector to sustain rural jobs and prosperity. The project area surrounds a biomass conversion facility in Boardman, Ore.

Additionally, a BCAP project area in Kansas and Oklahoma, sponsored by Abengoa Biofuels, has been designated to grow up to 20,000 acres of switchgrass. The project area surrounds the future facility’s biomass conversion facility in Hugoton, Kan.

USDA has allocated approximately $45 million for contracts that range between less than five years up to 15 years in the four project areas for producers who volunteer to enroll in BCAP.

Producers who enter into BCAP contracts are eligible for reimbursements of up to 75% of the establishment costs of the perennial energy crop, and up to five years of annual maintenance payments for herbaceous crops and up to 15 years for woody crops.

Producers interested in participating in the project areas should visit their local Farm Service Agency (FSA) county office. The sign-up period for these four new project areas will begin on Aug. 8, 2011.

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