Finish the Farm Bill and fund agricultural energy programs

A successful Farm Bill would support all sectors of agriculture and related industry, while building a sustainable rural economy. Farm Bill energy programs do just that, by enhancing rural development in tandem with American energy independence. A new Farm Bill is overdue – since last year’s extension has expired – so it’s heartening that House and Senate agriculture committee members are negotiating a final bill.

Another simple extension of existing Farm Bill energy programs would ignore some important policy expansions contained in this year’s legislation and fail to make essential investments in rural energy infrastructure. The Senate’s version of this year’s Farm Bill Energy Title establishes long-overdue parity for renewable chemical manufacturers and includes $900 million in mandatory energy program funding. I encourage the conference committee to include these provisions in any final package.

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The Farm Bill Energy Title programs help rural communities access investment capital to build new markets and create new jobs and other economic opportunities. For instance, the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) partners with hundreds of farmers to develop next-generation energy crops from non-food sources, creating new farm income sources. This program supports more than 860 growers in 188 counties across 12 states, who are converting 59,000 underutilized acres to energy crops. The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) supports every type of renewable energy technology and energy efficiency projects operated by farmers, ranchers, and rural small businesses, benefiting the agriculture sector in every state. The 7,600 projects it supports employ 18,000 people and generate or save more than 7.3 billion kilowatt hours of electricity – enough to power 680,000 U.S. homes annually. Lastly, the Biorefinery Assistance Program (BAP) invests in cutting-edge biorefineries that produce advanced biofuels from non-food sources. By providing access to capital, it enables new technologies – including industrial biotechnology —to evolve.

The Farm Bill Energy Title is essential to job formation across the country.  These programs allow farmers and businesses to thrive in a rural economy, while improving the environment and making America more energy independent. Additionally, companies are moving away from conventional crop-based feedstocks to such advanced feedstocks as algae and waste in efforts to produce cleaner, renewable fuel while reducing the burden on crops (land cultivation).  Conventional and advanced biofuels are not only creating new revenue streams for American manufacturers, but also allowing farm families to earn additional income by producing renewable energy on their land.

Language in the Senate-passed version of the Farm Bill, S.954, provides long-overdue eligibility to renewable chemicals in the Biorefinery Assistance Program and elsewhere.  Renewable chemical technologies are creating additional manufacturing opportunities and improving U.S. economic competitiveness, in conjunction with America’s clean energy renaissance. The U.S. will lose economic growth and job opportunities to other countries if it does not reauthorize and expand policies that unlock investment capital for new technology, such as the Biorefinery Assistance Program.

Lastly, the Senate-passed Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act, S. 954 , provides for $900 million in mandatory energy program funding, to enable ongoing essential investments in rural energy.  Farmers, innovators, and biofuel companies all need support in order to effectively adapt and prosper in a growing marketplace.  The Senate-passed provisions in the energy title will put America’s bioeconomy ahead globally.  

Ritter is co-director of the Agriculture Energy Coalition.