USDA resumes incentive program for biomass crops

The U.S. Department of Agriculture resumed an incentive program Monday designed to push farmers toward growing crops to be converted into energy and bio-based products.

According to a fact sheet published by the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, the Biomass Crop Assistance Program can cover up to 50 percent of farmers’ costs of establishing a new perennial energy or biomass crop, and provide annual payments for maintaining the crops for five years for an herbaceous crop or 15 years for a woody crop.

Farmers can earn money by establishing and maintaining the new crops, or by harvesting and delivering agricultural or forest residues to a USDA-approved facility that creates energy or bio-based products.

Interested farmers can apply for biomass establishment and maintenance payments between June 15 and Sept. 13.

Currently, Virginia hosts no USDA-approved project areas that have planted new biomass crops.

Certain crops are ineligible for the new crop implementation program, including invasive species, noxious plants, or conventional crops already receiving payment under the 2014 Farm Bill, including barley, corn, grain, sorghum, oats, rice, wheat, honey, mohair, oilseeds, peanuts, pulse, chickpeas, lentils, dry peas, dairy products and sugar.

Along with the implementation program, foresters and farmers can apply for incentives to retrieve and deliver residual biomass to the USDA-approved facilities between June 15 and Aug. 4. Eligible crops include corn residue, diseased or insect-infested wood materials or orchard waste.

Funding for the program — $3 million for the 2016 fiscal year – comes from the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, which was authorized under the 2014 Farm Bill.

According to a press release from the USDA, the program supports more than 890 growers and landowners farming 49,000 acres.