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USDA prepares to implement Biomass Crop Assistance Program

Authorized by the 2008 farm bill, the Biomass Crop Assistance Program will provide financial assistance to producers or entities that deliver biomass material to designated biomass conversion facilities for use as heat, power, bio-based products or biofuels.

Initial assistance will be for costs related to the collecting, harvesting, storing, transporting and delivery of eligible materials.

Producers or entities will be eligible for up to a dollar-per-dollar match, up to $45 per dry ton, for the value of the biomass that is delivered to a designated biomass conversion facility.

For example, if a biomass conversion facility pays a producer $30 per dry ton for biomass, the producer could be eligible for a $30-per-dry-ton payment from U.S. Department of Agriculture for the costs associated with collecting, harvesting, transporting and storing the product.

Under the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, producers or entities will be eligible for up to two years of payments.

The USDA will be moving forward with the rulemaking process later this year to implement the program. USDA's Farm Service Agency will be in charge of administering the program.

As more information becomes available, local FSA offices will be able to educate and assist both producers and biomass conversion facilities on how to qualify and participate in the Biomass Crop Assistance Program.

Loan approved for biodiesel plant

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved a $25 million loan guarantee that will enable a Minnesota biodiesel facility to diversify its operation and significantly expand the production of advanced biofuels.

USDA's Rural Development is providing SoyMor Biodiesel with the loan to purchase equipment that will convert multiple types of feedstocks, including an unrefined corn oil waste product from nearby ethanol facilities, into biodiesel. In its current configuration, the plant has the ability to process only soybean oil.

Originally opened in 2005, SoyMor Biodiesel has an annual production capacity of 30 million gallons. However, high feedstock costs forced the plant to suspend operations at its Albert Lea facility in the spring of 2008.

The Biorefinery Assistance Program promotes the development of new and emerging technologies for the production of fuels that are produced from noncorn-starch biomass sources. The program provides loan guarantees to develop, construct and retrofit viable commercial-scale biorefineries producing advanced biofuels.

CRP participants must control noxious weeds

Participants in the Conservation Reserve Program are reminded that their contracts with the U.S. Department of Agriculture require them to comply with Minnesota's noxious weed law.

During the month of July, CRP participants should be carefully inspecting their acres for weeds. If noxious weeds are present, corrective action must be taken before the weeds go to seed.

Failure to comply with Minnesota's noxious weed law could result in a reduction in the participant's annual rental rate, or even contract cancellation for serious violations.

Before performing any weed control measures, Conservation Reserve Program participants must request and receive permission from their Farm Service Agency office. Requesting and receiving prior approval is especially important during the primary nesting season.

The primary nesting season for Kandiyohi County and most surrounding counties began May 15 and will continue through Aug. 1. During this period, Conservation Reserve Program cover should not be disturbed except for necessary weed control measures and only with prior approval from the Farm Service Agency.

In the interest of protecting nesting habitat, treatment should be limited to the areas infested with weeds.

Since many program fields border farmland devoted to crop production, program participants should make every effort to be a "good neighbor" by assuring that any noxious weeds on Conservation Reserve Program acres don't spread to adjacent cropland.

Wes Nelson is executive director of the USDA Farm Service Agency in Kandiyohi County.