On August 19, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a funding opportunity for biomass crops, under the 2014 Farm Bill’s Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP). The program will distribute a total of $22.5 million for 2016, and applications are due November 6, 2015. BCAP is authorized to provide funding for projects that develop agricultural products, including advanced and cellulosic biofuels and biobased products. Eligible feedstocks include purpose-grown feestocks such as switchgrass and miscanthus.
BCAP may distribute funding to farmers who are growing biomass crops for the first time, assistance in maintaining biomass crops, as well as assistance in collecting biomass crops. Purpose-grown energy crops are of great interest to agronomists and environmentalists, as they can improve environmental measures on the farm, as well as providing feedstocks for advanced and cellulosic biofuels, in addition to renewable electricity and chemicals.
They are also of interest to farmers as they can be grown on marginal lands, create buffer strips near streams and waterways, and provide income on land that may be unproductive. Despite the interest in these purpose-grown biomass feedstocks such as switchgrass and miscanthus, their newness in the agricultural system means that producers face challenges in the growth and harvesting of these dedicated energy crops.
In addition to funding new projects, BCAP will fund four existing project areas in New York, North Carolina, Ohio/Pennsylvania, as well as Kansas/Oklahoma. This funding will help establish an additional 10,500 acres of advanced biofuels and biobased products feedstocks, including shrub willow, giant miscanthus and switchgrass, in these four project areas.
Despite the success of the 2014 Farm Bill’s energy title, programs like BCAP are being threatened by House appropriators. The House Appropriations bill on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies contains language that would cut the Farm Bill’s energy title funding for 2016 by 47 percent, with BCAP funding cut by 52 percent. Senate appropriators have maintained the Energy Title at mandatory levels.
When Congress reconvenes in September, lawmakers will have only three weeks until the end of the fiscal year. The Senate and House must reconcile their bills before sending them to the President. With such a tight deadline, and major differences between House and Senate appropriations language, it is unlikely that a full omnibus spending package will be sent to the President’s desk. Lawmakers may instead choose to pass a partial omnibus (a so-called cromnibus) or a continuing resolution (CR) which will preserve spending levels at the sequester level.
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