Funding available for biomass crops

After being renewed as part of the Agricultural Act of 2014, a program offering assistance with growing and harvesting biomass crops once again is available to interested individuals.

The Biomass Crop Assistance Program was awarded $25 million last week for helping reimburse individuals who plant, harvest and sell biomass crops – biological sources such as trees and plants used to create renewable energy – to approved facilities.

Bioenergy and biomass crops steadily have been gaining in popularity across the country as a form of clean energy.

“We’ve had some interest in it so far, and we did have several individuals enrolled in the program the first time around,” said Lycoming County Farm Service Agency Executive Director Michael Sherman.

Sherman said that biomass crops can be anything from woodchips and bark to plants such as shrub willow, the crop planted by the East Lycoming School District several years ago that now is being used as a heat source for the Hughesville High School building.

“There has to be a market for it,” he said.

The program provides matching payments of up to 50 percent for costs associated with planting, harvesting, transporting and selling the crops to participating facilities.

Some of that funding also can support other activities, such as clearing dead or diseased trees that can be turned into renewable energy while reducing the risk of forest fires.

Sherman noted that the shrub willow planted in Hughesville is a great plant for first-time participants to try.

“It’s relatively inexpensive to get cuttings – all you have to do is trim some of the branches from mature plants and stick them in the ground and they take root,” he said. “It’s pretty incredible.”

Shrub willow also is good for stabilization of stream banks by reducing erosion and reduces nitrogen loss in soil.

Crop incentives and payments will begin in 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Sherman encouraged interested individuals to learn more at their county’s Farm Service Agency office and submit an application if interested. Applications are being accepted now through July 14.

“We’re more than happy to discuss it with anyone who’s interested,” he said.