Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last week announced the establishment of the first Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) project area to promote the production of dedicated feedstocks for bioenergy.

“Reducing our dependence on foreign oil and getting a handle on out-of-`control gas prices will require investments in projects like we are announcing today,” said Vilsack. “By encouraging production of feedstocks that can be converted into next-generation biofuels, we are boosting the rural economy, creating jobs, contributing to America’s energy security and protecting our planet. Investments like this spark creation of new industries and is a key part of our effort to keep America competitive and win the future.”

Comprising 39 contiguous counties in Missouri and Kansas, the first BCAP project area proposes the enrollment of up to 50,000 acres for establishing a dedicated energy crop of native grasses and herbaceous plants (forbs) for energy purposes. Producers in the area will plant mixes of perennial native plants, such as switchgrass, for the manufacture of biomass fuel pellets and other products to be used for power and heat generation. The proposed crops also will provide long-term vegetative cover. The project is a joint effort between members of Show Me Energy Cooperative of Centerview, MO, and USDA.

The BCAP program provides an opportunity for teams of crop producers and bioenergy facilities to submit proposals to USDA to be selected as BCAP project areas. If selected, producers will be eligible for reimbursements of up to 75% of the cost of establishing a bioenergy perennial crop, and can receive up to five years of annual payments for grassy crops (annual or perennial), and up to 15 years of annual payments for woody crops (annual or perennial). Bioenergy facilities are facilities that produce heat, power, biobased products or advanced biofuels from biomass feedstocks.

BCAP, created in the 2008 Farm Bill, is a primary component of the strategy to reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil, improve domestic energy security, reduce pollution and spur rural economic development and job creation. It provides incentives to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners for the establishment and cultivation of biomass for heat, power, bio-based products and biofuels.

Producers interested in participating in the project area should visit their Farm Service Agency county office for additional information and application. Facts about BCAP also may be found at www.fsa.usda.gov/bcap.

The deadline for submitting BCAP project area proposals is May 27.