Our theme this month was somewhat difficult to tackle because even though the potential for growing energy crops is great, there are virtually no commercial-scale planting sites yet. This will probably be the case until farmers start to see some economic benefit in planting energy crops.
As we often note, the chicken and egg dilemma is at work here. Developers want to have a guaranteed fuel supply while growers need a rock-solid market before they will plant. This will only be solved by someone taking a leap of faith that the industry will develop and be successful.
That’s where incentives such as the Biomass Crop Assistance Program come into play. The way the program is set up for energy crops should make it more profitable for farmers to add energy crops into their rotations. But, a couple of issues with the BCAP need to be addressed before that will happen. One concern is the amount of money that will be available for the program and how many projects it will be able to support. Another issue is the duration of the program, as it is part of the 2008 Farm Bill, which must be reauthorized in 2012. There is much talk from lawmakers that the Farm Bill will need to be cut substantially to make it past deficit hawks. This could also affect the first concern, which is the amount of money appropriated to fund the program. For more information on this important federal program, see “BCAP Relaunch Should Bring New Biomass Producers into the Supply Chain” on page 38.
While the questions posed above cannot be answered today, there are other issues involving energy crops that Biomass Power & Thermal associate editors were able to explore, including energy crop production on marginal lands, the potential for growth into 2050 and companies that are building up their businesses to supply energy crops.
I should also mention that BBI International's 2011 International Biomass Conference & Expo is coming up May 2-5 in St. Louis. If you haven't registered already, be sure to do so at www.biomassconference.com.