Chris Holliday has more pastureland than he needs for his cows—335 acres to be exact. So when USDA introduced a way to use that land to help create clean energy while reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil, he saw it as an opportunity.
“I thought it was a good idea and I had a good feeling about it,” said Holliday, owner of Holliday Investment in Prairie Home, Mo. He is one of several farmers that signed up acreage in the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, or BCAP, last year. All 335 acres will be used to plant Miscanthus, a giant perennial grass that can be processed into a biofuel.
The USDA incentive greatly reduces farmers’ expenses to finance the planting, harvesting and delivery of the Miscanthus for processing. BCAP pays farmers up to 75 percent of the planting costs and offers an annual rental payment while producers wait for the crop to mature, which takes about three years.
Eric Allphin, an agronomist for MFA Oil, travels throughout Missouri and Arkansas offering advice on the best methods to grow the crop. “I give advice on initial fertilizer rates, field preparation and planting,” said Allphin. He also helps educate the public by dispelling the myth that Miscanthus is an invasive perennial.
“People who think it is invasive don’t know a lot about the crop,” said Allphin. Miscanthus is a sterile crop that doesn’t produce seeds that can be blown away by the wind or carried by birds. “It’s less invasive than its native species,” he said.
For Holliday, the crop is a win-win situation.
“I wouldn’t have put up the upfront costs to do this if it were not for the BCAP program. The government took the risk out of it and made it easier,” he said. “There really is no downside and I like doing new things. If it helps lower the price of gas and oil, then I’m all for it.”
Holliday signed up for the program through MFA Oil Biomass—a partnership between Aloterra Energy and MFA Oil. “FSA picked a good company to work with,” said Holliday. “Farmers know and trust MFA.”
The company manages three project areas in Missouri, Arkansas and a portion of Pennsylvania. This spring, the company expects to plant 6,588 acres of Miscanthus, including the 335 acres on Holliday’s farm.
BCAP is an important element of our national energy strategy to address high fuel prices and reduce reliance on petroleum. To create jobs in rural communities, drive economic growth, and help reduce our dependence on foreign oil, USDA is aggressively pursuing investments in renewable energy, investing in or making payments to over 5,700 renewable energy and energy efficiency improvement projects. More than 130 biodiesel and ethanol projects funded by USDA are currently producing almost 3.7 billion gallons of biodiesel and ethanol annually, enough fuel – in equivalence to gasoline – to keep five million vehicles on the road every year. In addition, USDA provided financial assistance for blender fuel pumps so drivers can pump fuels with higher ethanol mix into their gas tanks. This year, these programs provided financial assistance to help support nearly 250 blender fuel pumps.