Vilsack makes major BCAP announcements

By Anna Austin | June 15, 2011

While the fate of 2012 funding for USDA's Biomass Crop Assistance Program is still up in the air, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack made some major announcements June 15 regarding the program’s project area component.

In early June, the Ag Appropriations Subcommittee and the House Appropriations Committee voted to eliminate 2012 funding for BCAP. All hope for the program is not lost, however, as the ag department spending bill still has to pass the Democrat-controlled Senate. Several strong BCAP supporting senators, including Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, are expected to make a bid to preserve the program’s funding.

During a media briefing Wednesday, Tom Vilsack and Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., announced the establishment of four BCAP project areas in Missouri, Arkansas, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The three multi-county project areas in Arkansas and Missouri will include nearly 14,000 acres for the establishment of giant miscanthus. The counties in these project areas surround MFA Oil Biomass LLC biomass conversion facilities that will convert the miscanthus into fuel pellets for heat, power and export opportunities, Vilsack said. The fourth 5,250-acre project area, which covers part of Ohio and Pennsylvania, will do the same, but surround a bioconversion facility owned by Aloterra Energy LLC. 

“Over the next several years, our hope is that these facilities will convert this crop [miscanthus] into energy and generate much-needed jobs in these areas,” Vilsack said. “Our goal is ultimately to get up 50,000 acres of cropland for the growth of miscanthus. We believe as these project areas get on board, we’ll see thousands of jobs created and tens of millions of dollars generated from these facilities.”

In order to be eligible to grow miscanthus in a project area, one must have a conservation plan and plant bumpers around the crop to monitor spreading, Vilsack said. “We believe it can produce up to 10 to 12 dry tons per acre.”

He added that the project areas would help Missouri meet its renewable portfolio standard of 15 percent by 2021,

Today’s project area announcements come on the heels of USDA’s first project area unveiling that occurred early May, bringing the total to five.  

When asked about the possibility of the zeroing out of 2012 BCAP funding, Vilsack said the USDA believes it has enough funding to support the projects announced thus far. “We did receive funding from Congress to institute this program, and we believe in the four projects announced today, the total cost of which will be in the neighborhood of $120 million,” he said. “Future funding would allow us to expand opportunities as we learn more about what works, and we obviously encourage Congress to give some serious thought about the necessity of continued support. We’re confident these project areas announced today are ones that we can fund, along with the one announced last month.”