USDA budget request addresses biofuels, bioproducts, feedstocks

By Erin Voegele | February 16, 2012

The White House has released its Fiscal Year 2013 budget request for the USDA. The administration is asking for a total of $23 billion in discretionary funding, which is a nearly 3 percent decrease compared to the funding levels enacted for FY 2012. If enacted as proposed, the budget would invest $6.1 billion in renewable and energy and environmental improvements. According to the budget request, this would spur the creation of high-value jobs, make America more energy independent, and drive global competitiveness in the sector.

Agricultural Secretary Tom Vislack spoke specifically about the renewable energy components of the budget request following its release. “To promote the domestic production of renewable energy and create good jobs in rural communities, we'll invest in farmers, scientists and entrepreneurs working to develop a nationwide biofuels economy,” he said. “We'll also continue our partnership with the U.S. Navy and Department of Energy to boost the production of domestically produced aviation biofuels for use by the military.”

The USDA describes specific budget requests regarding renewable energy and biofuel programs in a document it published, titled “FY 2013 Budget Summary and Annual Performance Plan.” In that document, the USDA says it is working with scientists, famers, and entrepreneurs to develop a nationwide biofuels economy and create hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Under the heading of the Commodity Credit Corp. (CCC) Net Outlays, the budget calls for $11 million in funding for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program. That is a significant reduction over the $24 million and $25 million included in the FY 2011 and 2012 budgets. However, information released by USDA noted that the statutory authority to enter into new agreements under BCAP expires at the end of 2012. The funding requested for FY 2013 would support the long-term contracts that have been formed under the program before the end of the year.

The budget request also includes an estimated $171 million to support Biobased Fuel Production under the CCC. USDA documentation specifies that the amount will go to subsidize biobased jet fuel. The initiative was provided no funding in 2011 and 2012. According to the USDA document, the CCC provides funding for commodity programs administered by the Farm Service Agency as well as many Farm Bill programs. The CCC borrows funds needed to finance these programs from the U.S. Treasury and then repays the borrowings using receipts and appropriations provided by Congress.

 Funding requests for several Farm Bill programs are not listed, as USDA documentation states that the funding for those initiatives will be subject to reauthorization of the programs. This includes the Biorefinery Assistance Guaranteed Loans, Rural Energy for America Loans, Rural Energy for America Grants and the Bioenergy for Advanced Biofuels program. The Farm Bill’s Biomass Research and Development program and the Biodiesel Fuel Education Program funding requests are also subject to program reauthorization.

In addition, the 2013 budget request includes approximately $1.1 billion for Agricultural Research Service research and information funding. According to the USDA, this is a net increase of $8 million. The ARS conducts research in many areas, including biobased products and biofuels, livestock production, crop production, and food safety. Regarding its biofuel and bioproduct initiatives, the USDA said the ARS is working to improve the efficiency and reducing the cost of converting agricultural products into biofuels and biobased products. Under the heading of Environmental Stewardship, the budget calls for the reallocation of $3.6 million to develop economically viable agricultural production system for bioenergy, food and feed crops that will enhance ecosystems.

Funding is also requested for feedstock development under the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. The 2013 budget proposes a total of $325 million in funding for AFRI. According to the USDA, major initiatives of the program include an increase of $30 million for the department’s alternative and renewable energy research initiative to develop high-quality, cost-effective biofuel feedstocks and to conduct targeted research on enhanced value coproducts and land-use changes that result from feedstock production and conversion. Funding will also support research into the socioeconomic impacts of biofuels in rural communities to enhance rural economies.

The USDA also noted that the budget includes a proposal to assess penalties for misuse of the BioPreferred label and to authorize the collection of user fees for applications of the labeling program.

Additional budget details can be accessed by downloading the FY 2013 Budget Summary and Annual Performance Plan from the USDA website.