A final rule to implement the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), in which producers may be paid up to 75% of the cost of establishing eligible perennial biomass crops, was recently announced by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

The program has operated as a pilot, designed to ensure that a sufficiently large base of new, non-food, non-feed biomass crops is established in anticipation of future demand for renewable energy consumption.

“BCAP will help the nation's power, bio-based product, and advanced biofuel industries produce energy from sustainable rural resources and create jobs that will stimulate rural economies across the nation,” Vilsack says.

Producers can receive payments for up to five years for annual or non-woody perennial crops and up to 15 years for woody perennial crops. The Farm Service Agency (FSA) is accepting project area proposals and, after approval, eligible producers may participate by enrolling at their FSA county offices.

BCAP also assists ag and forest landowners and operators by providing matching payments for the transportation of certain eligible materials that are sold to qualified biomass conversion facilities. The facilities convert the materials into heat, power, bio-based products or advanced biofuels.

Vilsack also jointly announced a five-year agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration to develop aviation fuel from forest and crop residues and other “green” feedstocks. Under the partnership, the agencies will bring together their experience in research, policy analysis and air transportation sector dynamics to assess the availability of different kinds of feedstocks that could be processed by bio-refineries to produce jet fuels.

The participants will develop a tool to evaluate the status of different components of a feedstock supply chain, such as availability of biomass from farms and forests, the potential of that biomass for production of jet fuel, and the length of time it will take to ramp up to full-scale production. The agencies already have existing programs and collaborative agreements with private and public partners and resources to help biorefiners develop cost-effective production plans for jet-aircraft biofuels.

This cooperative agreement supports a larger research plan led by USDA through its five Regional Biomass Research Centers, which will help accelerate the development of a commercial advanced biofuels industry across the U.S. The plan sets out to include as many rural areas as possible to maximize the economic benefits of biofuel production across the country. The centers will provide the critical mass needed to develop high-performance teams that will guide biomass research to address needs in both the public and private sector, including commercial aviation, military transportation and other activities.

Vilsack also discussed a biofuels report prepared by USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS) that says replacing more petroleum with cost-competitive domestic biofuels reduces crude oil imports, thereby lowering prices for energy and benefiting the U.S. economy. The entire ERS report is available at http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/err102.