USDA highlights 2015 bioeconomy achievements

By Erin Voegele | December 28, 2015

The USDA has released a list of its 2015 top achievements. According to the department, these achievements demonstrate efforts to help farmers and ranchers bring their products to tables domestically and abroad, build critical infrastructure in America's rural areas, conserve our nation's natural resources through long-lasting partnerships, and continuously work toward improving the lives of all Americans.

"Since 2009, USDA has focused significant and targeted investments in America's rural communities to bring transformative change. Last year, those investments blossomed across the United States with substantial results in the burgeoning bioeconomy, an exploding local and regional food system, unparalleled investments in renewable energy, improved nutrition interventions for young people, historic partnerships in conservation and greenhouse gas reduction, and major contributions in rural infrastructure, among some. Even with challenges in 2015, including an unprecedented animal disease outbreak and lower commodity prices, America's rural communities have proven once again that we are a nation of makers, creators and innovators, and our economy and security are stronger because of it. As we look to 2016, USDA will continue to seek out new and innovative ways to expand opportunity for America's farming families and rural communities," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Several of the achievements listed by the USDA benefited the bioenergy and biofuels sectors. Under the category of climate change achievements, the department highlighted its work with the U.S. EPA to set the first-ever national food waste reduction goal of 50 percent by 2030. The effort aims to reduce the amount of food waste disposed that is disposed of in landfills, which produces methane emissions that fuel climate change.

The USDA also lists several achievements under the category of energy and bioeconomy. Over the past year, the department has made $100 million available in grants to increase the number of fuel pumps supplying E15 and E85. With matching grants from state and private partners, the initiative is expected to provide $210 million and nearly double the number of fueling pumps that supply these ethanol fuel blends.

In addition, the USDA issued a report that examines and quantifies the effect of the U.S. biobased products industry from an economics and jobs perspective.

Progress was also made with the BioPreferred Program, which now lists more than 14,000 biobased products in its online catalog and has certified more than 2,400 products to date to use the BioPreferred label.

During 2015, the USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program provided 1,946 projects with $82.9 million in grants and $161.2 million in loan guarantees.

A conditional commitment was also made to Cool Planet Energy Systems under the 9003 loan guarantee program.

Through the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, USDA provided assistance to 890 growers on 49,000 acres for costs associated with harvesting and transporting agriculture or forest residues to facilities that convert biomass crops into energy.

In addition, research projects funded through NIFA’s Biomass Research and Development Initiative is leading to the development of economically and environmentally sustainable sources of renewable biomass. Projects include a grant to Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., which is working to use plant residue from guayule for rubber production.

A full list of USDA’s 2015 achievements is available on its website.