As livestock producers continue to voice concerns about rising feed costs, proposed “transition assistance” for farmers to grow dedicated energy crops was introduced this week in legislation sponsored by Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Kent Conrad (D-SD).
“Farmers are going to be a key part of our nation’s ability to achieve energy independence,” said Klobuchar. “These crops could revolutionize how we look at energy just like ethanol and biodiesel have. Now its time for Congress to act and reward our farmers at home, protect the environment, and pave the way for tomorrow’s energy.”
Harkin, chairman of the Senate Ag Committee, said in a press release that the Farm-to-Fuel Investment Act “charts a course for initiating the extensive production of biomass feedstocks while continuing to protect wildlife and promote sound soil and water conservation practices.”
The bill would provide three years of transition assistance to farmers who produce dedicated energy crops in an area 50 miles around a biorefinery that will produce fuels like cellulosic ethanol. Incentives are needed for the first few years because it takes about three years for crops like switchgrass to reach their first mature harvest. The three-year period also takes into account the time needed to develop a biorefinery to purchase the crop. After a market has developed and the crops have matured, the transition assistance would phase out.
Senator Conrad said he is supporting this legislation “because I believe that North Dakota can help this nation grow its way out of our dependency on foreign energy – whether it’s from cellulosic ethanol or biodiesel. It’s time we turned from the Mid East for our energy and turned instead to the Mid West.”
To participate, farmers would have to agree to adopt conservation practices for soil quality, water quality and wildlife habitat. This legislation also allows for an additional incentive to farmers who produce native perennial energy crops, such as prairie grass mixtures, because of the tremendous conservation benefits those crops provide. Perennial grasses protect soil and water quality, sequester carbon, create wildlife habitat and save farmers money on fuel and fertilizer.