Legislators introduce Farm Bill

By Erin Voegele | October 12, 2011

Two Indiana legislators have introduced Farm Bill legislation that would target $40 billion in cuts to the USDA’s budget as part of the effort to meet federal deficit reduction goals.

The legislation, titled the Rural Economic Farm and Ranch Sustainability and Hunger Act (REFRESH), would reform a wide range of farm, conservation and nutrition programs. It would also make several alterations to the programs included under the current Farm Bill’s energy title.

Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind.,and Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., introduced the legislation on Oct. 5. One major change proposed under REFRESH would repeal the Feedstock Flexibility Program for Bioenergy Producers, which was authorized under Section 9010 of the 2008 Farm Bill. According to information published by the USDA, the program aims to encourage the domestic production of biofuels from surplus sugar. Information published to the department’s website notes that regulations outlining the program details are currently under development.

The bill would also make several changes to the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, as well as authorize funding for the program. The bill would add a definition for the term “delivery,” which would mean the point of delivery of eligible material or an eligible crop. It would also change a component of the program regarding invasive or noxious plants. While the program’s language currently excludes “any plant that is invasive or noxious or has the potential to become invasive or noxious” from being considered an eligible crop under the BCAP program, the REFRESH Act would strike the phrase “noxious or has the potential to become invasive or noxious” from the definition. In other words, under the altered program, only invasive plants would be excluded from participating in the program, not those that are considered to be noxious or those that merely have the potential to become invasive or noxious.

The REFRESH Act would also make several changes to the exclusions to eligible lands. It would no longer necessarily exclude land enrolled in the conservation reserve program, land enrolled in the wetlands reserve program, or lands enrolled in the grassland reserve program. The legislation would also establish additional requirement for eligible material gathered from non-federal forest lands. In the case of non-federal forest land and forest land belonging to an Indian or Indian tribe that is in trust by the U.S. or subject to a restriction against alienation, eligible material must not be “diverted from use in markets,” it must be determined to be otherwise uneconomically retrievable, and it must be harvested in accordance with an approved conservation, forest stewardship or equivalent plan.

In addition, the REFRESH Act would add yard waste, municipal solid waste and sewage to the definition of exclusions of eligible material under the BCAP program. The list of ineligible material already includes animal waste and byproducts, food waste and algae. The amount of establishment payments for BCAP would also be altered under the proposed bill. While the program currently states that the amount of an establishment payment shall be up to 75 percent of the costs of establishing an eligible perennial crop covered by the contract, the REFRESH Act would reduce that 75 percent cap to 50 percent. Regarding funding authorization, the bill would authorize $55 million in funding to BCAP for each fiscal year from 2013 to 2017.

The language of the bill also notes that under the heading of discretionary funding “there is authorized to be appropriated to carry out this section [$150 million] for each of fiscal years 2013 through 2017.” The REFRESH Act would also make several changes to the Biorefinery Assistance program. These alterations include negating the portion of the program’s language that outlines the program’s purpose, as well as removing the term “eligible entities” from the program’s definitions. The bill would also authorize the program $100 million in funding for fiscal year 2013, and $80 million for fiscal years 2014 and 2015. A wide variety of other changes to Farm Bill Energy Title programs are proposed by the bill.

A full copy of the legislation, H.R. 3111, can be accessed on the Library of Congress website.

This story first appeared in Biorefining Magazine.