Funding for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) could be greatly reduced or even eliminated if the Senate follows the House lead. The House has already cut BCAP’s funding for 2011 by $134 million and eliminated all BCAP funding for fiscal year 2012.

If the Senate takes the same route, this would mean financial assistance would be dramatically cut or eliminated for farmers willing to take the risk of producing new, non-commodity crops for energy plants and cellulosic ethanol plants going forward.

In “Back on track: Why BCAP is worth saving,” Julia Olmstead, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (, recently wrote that BCAP had a rocky start. “The USDA Farm Service Agency blundered early on when they hastily kicked off an ill-advised matching payment element for existing biomass delivered to energy facilities.” She pointed out that the payments were not targeted to new crops, but rather existing markets for forestry residues. “Some $243 million flew out the door without necessarily creating any new energy or new biomass supplies,” Olmstead reported.

Now, however, new funding will be awarded to support crop establishment only and growers must observe Natural Resource Conservation Service conservation plans

Given the current budget-cutting environment, does BCAP have enough support in the Senate to survive? Farm Industry News asked this question of Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). (Last week, Senator Klobuchar, along with Senator John Thune (R-SD), negotiated a bipartisan compromise for what she calls a “more sustainable model of incentives for domestic renewable fuel production while reducing the deficit.”)

“There is strong support for cellulosic fuels in the Senate,” Klobuchar said, pointing out that last week’s compromise includes important provisions to develop cellulosic biofuels. “I will continue to fight to make sure we build on the work we did in the 2008 Farm Bill to maintain a strong, fair safety net for Minnesota and continue to help our rural communities innovate to provide the next generation of biofuels. Homegrown biofuels are not only an essential part of our rural economies, they are critical for our national security.”

Klobuchar has supported funding for BCAP as well as other Farm Bill energy programs that provide a homegrown energy source. “BCAP was designed to help farmers get past the chicken and the egg problem, where cellulosic plants won’t be built until there is a feedstock source, and farmers won’t grow new energy feedstocks until they have a market. We did that in the 2008 Farm Bill and will focus on it as we look at the next farm bill,” she said.

Klobuchar added, “While it is important that we address the fiscal challenges facing our country, it shouldn’t be done on the backs of our farm families that are producing the cellulosic energy crops that strengthen our national security and economic prosperity.”

Photo source: University of Illinois