The Future of BCAP in Discussion
One of the policy issues in debate as Congress wrestles with a new Farm Bill is what to do with the various energy sections.
The 2008 Farm Bill produced an incentive program that the Farm Service Agency (FSA) administered. It was designed to generate a start-up of crops that could be used for cellulosic fuel production and encouraged the collection of waste cellulosic materials for similar purposes.
The Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) initially focused on the latter solution, providing incentives for the collection, harvest, storage and transportation of secondary materials. Incentives to grow grasses and trees that could be renewable sources for energy production came later, but also at a time when Congress sought ways to reduce funding because of budget concerns.
The challenge a producer faces is that crops dedicated to non-food, cellulosic fuel production, such as switch grass, giant miscanthus and hybrid poplar trees, take several years to mature. Valuable land, even when its growing potential is marginal for food production or grazing grasses, can generate revenue for a farmer, such as enrolling in a conservation program. If it takes three to five years before the land yields a cash crop, the farmer loses income.
Without incentives from the government or private sources, few farmers have the financial strength to set land aside for that length of time until the crop is ready. This is especially true since the farmer also is working the cropland, using resources such as fertilizers and possibly irrigation to prepare the non-food crop for harvest.
The BCAP program has $17 million for 2012 implementation. FSA sought proposals to use those funds to establish new BCAP Project Areas. There are currently nine areas dedicated to growing feedstock for fuel production funded by BCAP. The following article published in Biomass Power & Thermal is a private-industry view of BCAP and other biomass incentive programs: http://biomassmagazine.com/articles/6297/viable-options/.
The issue the nation hopes to resolve is freeing itself of foreign oil dependence. Agronomists, Congress and the agriculture industry have shown one potential solution, which is BCAP and its possibilities to produce renewable resources. The question tackled by Congress in 2012 is who will be responsible for the next phase of requisite start-up expenses.