UPDATED: Vilsack announces new BCAP project areas

By Rona Johnson | July 26, 2011

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the addition of six states and four new projects under the USDA’s Biomass Crop Assistance Program. Project areas will be set aside in California, Montana, Washington, Oregon, Kansas and Oklahoma to grow nonfood crops that will be converted into heat, power, liquid biofuels and biobased products.

The announcement was made during the U.S. DOE's Biomass 2011 conference taking place July 26-27 in National Harbor, Md. A formal announcement for the media was held later in the day during a conference call, where more details were made available.

Two of the new BCAP project areas, targeted for California, Montana, Washington and Oregon, will grow camelina, which is an oilseed that can be grown on marginally productive land and used to produce a biofuel that can be a substitute for jet fuel.

Another BCAP project area is part of an effort sponsored by cellulosic biofuels company ZeaChem, and will encourage the production of hybrid poplar trees in Oregon to supply a biomass conversion facility in Boardman, Ore.

The fourth project area is in Kansas and Oklahoma and is sponsored by Abengoa Biofuels. The project area has been designated to grow up to 20,000 acres of switchgrass for a biomass conversion facility in Hugoton, Kan.

This announcement comes after the establishment of five BCAP project acres in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

“In those five states we’ve essentially said we need commitments over the course of the next five years to produce 250,000 acres of these products and we will pay you 75 percent of the input costs of establishing the crop,” Vilsack said. “And then, we will pay you an annual fee if you will, an annual payment, over the course of the next five years for you to continue to grow, harvest and provide that feedstock to a renewable energy producer.”

The BCAP was established by the 2008 Farm Bill and was designed to help farmers and landowners with the establishment of energy crops. “There may be opportunities for you to take land that was not as productive and make it productive, but there are upfront costs that you incur and we at USDA want to be part of helping you finance it to the point that it’s not as risky,” Vilsack said.

In response to a comment about BCAP’s precarious funding situation, Vilsack said that reducing funding is not the only way for Congress to get its fiscal house in order. He said he’s urging his friends in Congress to reduce spending, but at the same time to continue making investments that grow the economy, put people back to work and generate additional revenue.  

Currently, BCAP’s fate lies in the Senate, as the House of Representatives, in its agricultural appropriations spending bill, eliminated funding for the program.

Vilsack also addressed BCAP’s rocky start. “It is true that BCAP got off to a rocky start, but you know to a certain extent, it would have helped us if the legislation would had been more succinctly created and written,” he said “Now we know what Congress’ real intent was, they were clear about it, and now we’re putting into place a rule that makes sense that’s focusing the assistance where it needs to be focused consistent with the congressional intent.”