US restarts support with $11.5m for biomass crops

The Department of Agriculture will help farmers, ranchers and forest landowners interested in growing new crops for biomass.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) will resume an incentive programme this summer for farmers, ranchers and forest landowners who want to grow biomass crops or deliver forest and agricultural waste for renewable energy production, it said in a statement.

The programme will allocate $11.5 million in federal money until December for crops including corn residue, diseased or insect infested wood materials, or orchard waste. The USDA said that last year over 200,000 tons of dead or diseased trees from National Forests and Land Management lands were removed to produce renewable energy.

The Biomass Crop Assistance Program, as the USDA initiative is known, was reauthorised by the 2014 Farm Bill.

Demand for US-produced biomass fuel has been soaring, thanks largely to European demand. In 2014, one UK biomass plant alone – the 3,960MW Drax facility – accounted for more than 80 percent of all of the UK’s wood pellet imports from the US and almost 60 percent of all US wood pellet exports to all countries.

Importantly, that demand is set to be boosted by other regions in the near future.

In a recent conversation with timberland investment manager Timbervest, which manages more than $1 billion of timberland assets, chief executive Joel Shapiro and chief investment officer William Bowden were especially excited about how the ongoing Panama Canal expansion, set to conclude in 2016, will make it easier and cheaper to export US wood pellets from the south and Gulf Coast regions to Asia. The latter accounted for only 3 percent of US wood pellet exports in 2014.