Over the past decade, the America’s farmers, ranchers and foresters have been at the forefront of innovation, offering their operations as a working “laboratories” that have produced new, diverse energy technologies, including advanced biofuels, biogas, bioproducts, biopower, energy crops, wind, solar and energy efficiency.
It is through this advancement that the U.S. farm sector has already made significant contributions to the nation’s economic recovery and its energy security, as well as enhancing the environment with cleaner energy sources.
But the growth in new, clean energy is only just beginning, driven in large part by the energy programs first enacted in the 2002 Farm Bill and renewed again in 2008. Now that Congress is set to begin drafting a new five-year farm bill next month, it is critical that lawmakers maintain the stable and successful policies that can continue the development and commercialization of the groundbreaking technologies that are now poised to expand into a major contributor to our nation’s energy needs.
The 25x’25 Alliance has advocated for the passage as soon as possible of a new, viable farm bill that can offer stability to, and encourage investment in the new agricultural energy sector. It is legislation that must include a robust energy title with the mandatory funding needed to insure the continued success of programs that create jobs, boost the incomes of rural communities and offer the nation broad economic, energy and security benefits.
Programs created by the previous two farms bills, including the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), Biorefinery Assistance Program (BAP) and Biobased Markets Program (Biopreferred) are only beginning to show how strong a role they can play in meeting growing U.S. clean energy needs. Grounding them in a new farm bill over the next five years with appropriate funding and policy support is necessary to maximize the success of these critical programs.
Federal investments in farm energy programs are economically practical because demand for renewable energy products here and across the globe is on the rise. In the last five years, the farm bill’s energy title has been shown to create or save thousands of direct and indirect jobs while benefiting nearly 12,000 rural small businesses, agricultural producers, and advanced biofuel refineries across the country.
The benefits of energy title programs also come at a very modest cost. Of all the programs authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill, farm energy programs account for less than one percent of total outlays. And those federal investments, in turn, have leveraged hundreds of millions of dollars from the private sector, providing significant value to U.S. farmers and the rural economy.
The jobs and industries created by the public and private investments in these farm energy programs bolster U.S. technological competitiveness in the global marketplace, all while allowing our rural economy to grow, even as budgetary pressure strains the longstanding agriculture safety net.
However, the continued growth in new agricultural, manufacturing and high tech jobs generated by clean energy technologies are at great risk without continued federal support. The 25x’25 Alliance and other renewable energy stakeholders have long understood that finding the right combination of farm program cuts and spending priorities is a difficult task for agriculture committee members. But the case can readily be made that the return on federal investment in farm energy programs is many times larger and can lead to a strong, stable rural economy. And it’s a case that ag panel members can make to their colleagues in both houses of Congress.
Renewable energy stakeholders are urged to call on lawmakers and share with them the benefits that will come from well-funded, agriculture-based energy programs and policies in the new farm bill. The reality is that a strong farm bill energy title plays a major role in the ongoing revitalization of the nation’s economy.