Eastern Washington Farms Fueling Vacations

Eastern Washington Farms Fueling Vacations
Farmers across eastern Washington could soon be fueling the plane you’re taking on your next vacation or business trip.

Through a partnership between two biofuel companies and the Farm Service Agency (FSA), camelina crops could be established on up to 11,000 acres in Washington state as part of the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP). Camelina is an oil-seed crop, and when processed is a drop-in replacement for jet fuels.

BCAP Project Areas are intended to provide financial incentives for the production of certain crops for energy production. The incentives can help offset the risks associated with trying a new crop and help ensure a reliable bio-refinery feedstock. This program falls under the larger USDA priority of creating a robust and viable biofuel industry.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture has worked to become a leader in promoting alternative and sustainable energy programs throughout the nation,” Judy Olson, FSA State Executive Director said. “We are very excited that Washington has been approved for this project, and we look forward to helping farmers begin growing the next generation of fuels.”

Farmers can sign up to participate in the program from Monday, August 8, through Friday, September 16, 2011. Cropland or non-woody agricultural land is eligible for the program. Land must be completely within the project area to be approved. One project, with AltAir Fuels LLC, has 10,000 available acres encompassing every county in eastern Washington with the exception of Kittitas, Klickitat and Yakima counties. The other project, through Beaver Biodiesel LLC, has 1,000 acres available in Whitman County. Whitman County is eligible for both projects.

Contracts will be awarded on a first-come-first-serve basis. Contracts run for five years, and producers are paid a county rental rate annually. Producers are required to have a conservation plan through the National Resource Conservation Service.

Eligibility is also tied to having a viable contract with one of the sponsoring companies. Producers must communicate with AltAir Fuels or Beaver Biodiesel to grow and deliver camelina before an application can be approved with FSA.

While camelina has been grown commercially in Montana and Oregon, it has been mostly a test and research crop in Washington until now. After pressing the crop for oil, the remainder can be used in animal feed.

The BCAP is a program out of the 2008 Farm Bill; therefore contracts must be approved before September 30, 2011 to be eligible for payments. Previously, the program had provided matching payments based off the amount of biomass produced. The program will now only pay rental rates, much like producers receive from the Conservation Reserve Program.

Olson stressed producers need to be aware of residual herbicide plant-back issues. Many popular chemicals applied to wheat and other crops can remain in the ground months after they have been initially applied. Oilseeds can be extremely sensitive to some of these chemicals, and FSA encourages producers to compile accurate chemical application histories to mitigate potential damage.

“Camelina can be a great alternative for marginal lands, and can provide both fuel and feed for animals,” Olson said. “There are significant risks associated with switching crops, but this program helps to mitigate that risk and provide incentives for growers to join the biofuel industry.”