Farmers in California, Kansas, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon and Washington will get help establishing renewable energy crops, thanks to an announcement this week from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

USDA has created four additional Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) project areas in those states. According to industry estimates, the projects will create more than 3,400 jobs and provide the feedstocks to produce more than 2 million gallons of biofuels annually when full production levels are achieved.

"The selection of these project areas is another step in the effort to assist the nation's advanced biofuel industry produce energy in commercial quantities from sustainable rural resources,” said Vilsack. “This effort will create jobs and stimulate rural economies across the nation."

In two of the new project areas, in California, Montana, Washington and Oregon, participating producers will grow camelina. An oilseed, camelina is a rotation crop for wheat that can be established on marginally productive land. Biofuel from camelina is an ideal jet-fuel substitute, and the announcement of these projects coincides with the first anniversary of a joint announcement by USDA, the Boeing Corporation and the Air Transportation Association on an initiative to bring renewable aviation fuels to the marketplace. The project has a target of 51,000 acres. The sponsors are Beaver Biodiesel, LLC and AltAir Fuels LLC. The project areas are near biomass conversion facilities in Bakersfield, CA; Tacoma, WA; and Albany, OR.

Another BCAP project area, part of an effort sponsored by ZeaChem, a cellulosic biofuels company, will encourage growth of hybrid poplar trees in Oregon. The goal is to enroll up to 7,000 acres. This project is part of a series of measures that comprise USDA's Wood-to-Energy Initiative. The project area surrounds a biomass conversion facility in Boardman, OR.

The fourth project area, sponsored by Abengoa Biofuels, has been designated to grow up to 20,000 acres of switchgrass in Kansas and Oklahoma. It surrounds Abengoa’s planned cellulosic ethanol plant in Hugoton, KS.

USDA has allocated approximately $45 million for contracts that range between less than five years up to 15 years in the four project areas. Producers who enter into BCAP contracts are eligible for reimbursements of up to 75% of the establishment costs of the perennial energy crop, up to five years of annual maintenance payments for herbaceous crops and up to 15 years for woody crops.

The sign-up period will begin Aug. 8 and end Sept. 16. Producers interested in participating should visit their local Farm Service Agency county offices. Information about BCAP may be found at www.fsa.usda.gov/bcap.

Earlier this year, USDA announced five BCAP project areas where energy crops will be grown on up to 250,000 acres in 66 counties in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Created in the 2008 Farm Bill, BCAP helps farmers and forest landowners with start-up costs of planting non-food energy crops for conversion to heat, power, biobased products and advanced biofuels. It’s designed to ensure that sufficient biomass is available to reduce America's reliance on foreign oil, improve domestic energy security, reduce pollution and spur rural economic development and job creation.