A Biomass Farm Bill

The Algae Biomass Organization's Margaret McCormick discusses implications the new Farm Bill has on algae and other biomass technologies.
By Margaret McCormick | March 31, 2014

In early February, President Barack Obama signed a Farm Bill that provided support to a broad spectrum of biomass technologies.

This bill is the result of hard negotiations among members of Congress, and as a result of the give-and-take process, the bill is not perfect. We are happy to see that elected officials are acknowledging the potential of biomass in the U.S., but as our nation grows, we will need new and sustainable sources of products from feed and food to fuels and chemicals.

Biomass technologies are beginning to provide that diversity of products, as well as the environmental upside of processes like carbon dioxide sequestration. In the algae industry, several companies are optimizing technologies that will grow biomass exclusively with saltwater or wastewater, an even more important accomplishment in the face of recent droughts. Stories of these potential solutions and commercial successes are beginning to attract new congressional supporters on both sides of the aisle.

The new Farm Bill was particularly interesting in that it addresses algae and other biomass from many angles:

• The bill will continue to allow algae projects to be eligible for support through the Biomass Crop Assistance Program for establishment and maintenance of algae crops.  This means that algae farmers will remain eligible to apply for USDA funding to establish their algae crops and also to maintain these crops on an annual basis.

• Every biomass supporter should be happy to see that $881 million in mandatory funding for the energy title is included in the Farm Bill. Many in Congress had proposed excluding the mandatory funding, which would have jeopardized programs like BCAP, the Biorefinery Assistance Program, the Biomass R&D Program, and the Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels.

• The bill extends the Biorefinery Assistance Program beyond biofuel refining to renewable chemicals and other biobased products. This will be welcome news for those looking to produce the full range of products derived from algae.

• The bill extends the Noninsured Crop Assistance Program to energy crops. Currently, NAP only covers crops grown for food, feed and fiber.  This means that producers of biofuels will now be eligible to apply for insurance coverage of their crops in the case of a natural disaster. 

Members of the Algae Biomass Organization supported all of these changes, as did many in the biomass community at large.

The Farm Bill isn’t perfect, but Congress recognizing that biomass industries should have real support is a significant step forward for the new wave of technologies that are generating jobs, renewable products, and environmental benefits that so many in the U.S. are demanding.

 The final language in the new Farm Bill is evidence that keeping Congress informed about the benefits of biomass and our industry success stories has a positive impact. I’m surely not alone in thinking that additional strong policy support can only make these technologies more successful in the U.S.

As we share more success, we will see more support.

Author: Margaret McCormick
Chair of Board of Directors, Algae Biomass Organization