USDA and Navy announce Farm-to-Fleet venture update

By Chris Hanson | December 12, 2013

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced a joint Farm-to-Fleet venture update that provides biofuel with a larger role in the military and promotes the rural economy.

 The venture aims to integrate JP-5 aviation fuel and F-76 marine diesel biofuels as part of the Navy’s bulk fuel acquisition processes, said Mabus. “We will seek to purchase biofuels from 10 to 50 percent with conventional fuels,” he said. “This effort marks the start of the new normal where drop-in biofuels will be fully integrated with our regular fuel operations.”

By completing in the venture, the Navy is able to promote the farm economy and provide a secure, domestically produced energy source, Mabus said. “The Navy has had a long tradition of connections not only with states along the ocean, but also with rural, heartland states far inland,” he said. “We couldn’t put the fleet to sea without those sailors that come from the farms and rural areas of our country.”

Sudden fuel price increases also incentivized the Navy to complete the venture. Spikes in gas prices have required the U.S. Department of Defense to pay additional $5 billion in unbudgeted fuel increases, Mabus shared.  “Every time you have a crisis somewhere, because oil is a globally traded commodity, oil prices surge,” he said. Conflicts in Syria, a country that does not produce much oil, led oil prices to spike more than $107 a barrel, he added.

“This is a big opportunity for rural America to continue to step up for our country,” Vilsack said. “We need a revitalized, rural economy to ensure those young men and women have the opportunities to return to their home areas when they complete their service.”

USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation will assist with funding the effort and assuring the Navy the fuel will be competitively priced, said Vilsack. “It’s possible that tool may not be used, but it certainly makes it easier for folks to know that’s available,” he said.

Commenting on the announcement, the Biotechnology Industry Organization thanked the Navy and Agriculture Secretaries for announcing the venture. “The Navy’s leadership in producing advanced biofuels will encourage rapid scale up of new technologies and construction of capacity. The USDA can help to build the necessary supply chains of sustainable, renewable biomass supplies. BIO and its member companies welcome today’s announcement,” said Brent Erickson, executive vice president of BIO’s industrial and environmental section.

“The Farm-to-Fleet program will help accelerate the production of biofuels made from a range of domestic crops, including algae, and will stimulate increased investment from the private sector,” reported the Algae Biomass Organization. “The market certainly provided by the U.S. Navy is a welcome and much needed demonstration of support of our industry, and one that will increase investor confidence in the prospect for long-term demand for biofuels derived from algae.”