USDA is finally moving ahead with the energy crop production portion of the Biomass Crop Assistance Program.
The agency is still erring on the side of caution, however, as funding amounts are unclear—and the 2012 Farm Bill is looming—but approval of the first BCAP project area has restored some enthusiasm for the program.
BCAP project areas provide financial incentives—annual payments to land enrolled and establishment cost-share payments—to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to produce biomass crops for heat, power, biobased products and advanced biofuels.
BCAP Project Area No. 1, approved on May 5, was proposed by Missouri-based, farmer-owned cooperative Show Me Energy. The 39-county project area is in central and western Missouri and eastern Kansas, and will consist of lowland and highland native mix grasses, according to Show Me Energy board President Steve Flick. “We kept it simple; we’re using no woody biomass crops,” he says. “The farmers decide if they want to plant a highland mix or lowland mix, and they don’t have to
harvest it initially if they don’t want to because it’s only mandatory to harvest it once in five years.”
Growers can sell their crop to any qualified biomass conversion facility. Flick says Show Me Energy will buy all biomass produced in the project area for use at its Centerview, Mo., biomass pellet plant, which is in the process of validating modular technologies for gasifying biomass pellets to produce electricity and biobutanol.
The target for this project area in 2011 is 20,000 acres of biomass crops. When fully enrolled, the area may have up to 50,000 acres, or a total of 150,000 tons per year from land enrolled in BCAP contracts. Most of Show Me Energy’s 600 members live in the project area, Flick says, but nonmembers in the area can also participate by contacting a local USDA Farm Service Agency office.
Flick says the co-op worked hard over many months to put the proposal together. “Hopefully this [approval] will get people energized [about BCAP],” he says, adding that he suspects several more BCAP project area approvals will soon follow. “We hope so, because we’d like to interface with other groups.”
Show Me Energy was also the first qualifier for BCAP matching collection, harvest, storage and transport (CHST) payments during the pilot version of the program. Since the program has been reinstated, Poet LLC has been the only CHST qualifier.
USDA FSA Communications Chief Kent Politsch says Poet’s corn stover feedstock is unlike most other energy biomass because it can only be collected once a year, during a brief window after harvest and before planting, and prolonged exposure to weather can damage the quality and transportability of the bales. “FSA anticipates announcing additional facilities soon,” he says. “In making those announcements, FSA has to exercise care to minimize mid-year funding disruptions and take into account the uncertainty regarding final BCAP funding levels.”