Need a nudge to try growing a new biomass crop? The Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) may be just the incentive for growers to produce biomass for biofuels and bioenergy markets. It is one of the most important programs to come along to get these markets up and going, says Anna Rath, vice president, commercial development, Ceres, Inc., Thousand Oaks, CA. Ceres is the first company to commercialize dedicated energy crops.

Section 9001 of the 2008 Farm Bill amends Title IX of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 by authorizing BCAP (pronounced BE-cap). BCAP supports the production of eligible crops for conversion to bioenergy and assists farmers and forestland owners with the collection, harvest, storage and transportation (CHST) of materials for biomass conversion facilities.

In May, President Obama issued a directive to USDA Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to issue guidance and provide support for several biomass programs, including the CHST portion of BCAP.

Following this, a Notice of Funds Availability (NOFA) for BCAP's CHST payments program was published in June (visit www.fsa.usda.gov/FSA/Internet/FSA_Federal_Notices/bcap.pdf).

MATCHING FUNDS BECOME available this year for certain provisions of BCAP to eligible material owners for the CHST of eligible renewable biomass. This means that if a biomass conversion facility enrolled in the program pays up to $45/ton for feedstock, the USDA will match that price to assist material owners with CHST for up to two years.

“We're awaiting what the rules say,” says James Sturdevant, director of Project Liberty for the Sioux Falls, SD-based ethanol producer Poet. With Project Liberty, Poet is integrating a corn-to-ethanol and cellulose-to-ethanol biorefinery in Emmetsburg, IA. Expected to be completed in 2011, the cellulosic portion of the plant will produce 125 million gallons of ethanol/year, of which 25 million gallons will come from corn fiber and corn cobs. USDA lists a wide range of feedstocks, including crop residues, for BCAP payment eligibility.

THE BCAP PROGRAM would allow more farmers to enter biomass markets, especially since it would help with startup costs, Sturdevant says.

Regardless of what happens with BCAP, Poet is committed to making its Emmetsburg, IA, facility profitable and then replicating the biomass conversion technology to its other ethanol plants across the country, Sturdevant says. The company also plans to license its technology to other ethanol producers.

The end of the public comment period for the NOFA was slated for Aug. 10. Draft regulation is expected to be published this fall, says Russell Martin, BCAP program assistant, Farm Service Agency (FSA), USDA. FSA plans to implement the entire program for the 2010 crop year.

The NOFA draft regulation is expected to be published this fall.

The USDA also will be seeking comment on a second part of BCAP, which would help eligible crop producers cover up to 75% of the establishment costs of certain energy crops, including seed, Rath says. This would help address the first year opportunity cost of growing perennials, she says. This phase is expected to be rolled out in time for spring 2010 planting, she adds.

Helping producers with establishment costs and with harvest, transportation and storage costs should help the cellulosic ethanol industry. Then, biorefineries could better plan to offer long-term biomass production contracts, Rath says.