Farmers push for help planting 'energy crops'

A group advocating a program that helps farmers cultivate crops that will be converted to energy took its message to Congress this week.

Members of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, the National Farmers Union and others held a series of briefings for House and Senate staffers to convice them of the "benefits of sustainably-grown energy crops," said policy center officials in a statement.

"The briefings focused on the federal Farm Bill’s Biomass Crop Assistance Program, or 'BCAP.' Sustainable biomass and biofuel crops could become an important clean energy resource, but farmers want to be sure there’s a market for these crops before they plant them, and power producers want to be sure there’s a supply of these crops before they buy them. BCAP was intended to help break this 'chicken and egg' dilemma by offsetting a portion of the costs of growing and harvesting new energy crops and other biomass feedstocks," the center said.

The center said that ever since Congress passed the biomass assistance program in the 2008 Farm Bill, the program has gotten off to a rocky start and very few of its resources are being directed to new, sustainably grown energy crops.

Anna Rath, vice president of commercial development for Thousand Oaks-based Ceres Inc., which develops seeds for energy crops, said in testimony that efforts should be made to preserve cropland base so growers can plant other commodities in the future, to provide half the first year annual payments up-front, to ensure growers of energy crops are eligible for annual payments and to eventually establish other programs such as crop insurance for energy crops. She said such measures are "essential to ensure that these crops are on an equal footing with traditional crops."

The center said its mission is to persuade the U.S. Department of Agriculture to "hard-wire strong environmental protections in the BCAP rules and prioritize the right energy crops for development. If grown and harvested correctly, BCAP can boost on-farm income, help rural communities and improve environmental quality."

The central San Joaquin Valley has its share of biofuel connections. Sacramento-based Pacific Ethanol Inc. reportedly will emerge from bankruptcy and restart production at its Madera County plant.

The San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization is a nonprofit dedicated to improving our region's quality of life by increasing its production and use of clean and alternative energy. The SJVCEO works with cities and counties and public and private organizations to demonstrate the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy throughout the eight-county region of the San Joaquin Valley.