Farm Bill Breakdown: Energy Title

September 12, 2008
Switchgrass can yield almost twice as much ethanol as corn

WASHINGTON (Sep 12, 2008)—The “farm bill” might sound like a piece of legislation that deals strictly with agricultural policy, but it is far from narrowly focused. Every month, Farm Policy Facts will dissect a title of the bill to illustrate its breadth and importance to people all over our country – not just farmers.

This month, Title IX, the Energy Title.

The first energy title found its way into the 2002 farm bill, and Title IX in the 2008 farm bill builds on the 2002 version. With more $1.112 billion in allocated and available discretionary funding, more than double that in the 2002 farm bill, Title IX creates new programs and provides additional federal funding for farm based energy initiatives. It’s a robust, wide ranging title that has provisions for programs across the country; in the public, private, and non-profit sectors; and across several departments of the federal government.

Some of the more established programs have mandated funding. The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which received double its 2002 funding at more than $355 million in mandatory and discretionary spending over five years, provides grants and increases loan guarantee limits for renewable energy and efficiency projects for farmers, ranchers, and rural businesses. The Repowering Assistance Program, the Biorefinery Assistance Program, the Bioenergy Program for Advance Fuels, and the Biomass Crop Assistance Program are just some of the initatives set to receive part of the hundreds of millions of farm bill dollars targeted at moving America’s energy programs forward while maintaining and growing the agricultural sector.

Other programs were provided discretionary funding, such as the $20 million Rural Energy Self-Sufficiency program and the $60 million Forest Biomass for Energy Program. These two programs will create opportunities for less densely populated areas to explore new and more efficient ways of meeting their energy needs by, for example, utilizing wind turbines to generate electricity or excess biomass and organic waste to make ethanol.

Title IX of the farm also bill doesn’t just allocate funding for grants and research and development programs — it directs the Secretary of Agriculture to conduct needed studies. For instance, the bill directs the Department is to conduct research and report on what sort of infrastructure constraints the nation will face production and use of biofuels increase. Many of the required studies will be carried out in conjunction with other departments and agencies, like the Comprehensive Biofuels Study that will be conducted by National Academy of Sciences at the request of the Department of the Agriculture, the Department of Energy, the Department of the Treasury, and the Environmental Protection Agency. The study will be an analysis of current findings relating to the production of biofuels and the effects of an increase in their production, and is intended to be a far-reaching analysis of the impact of biofuels production on land use, fuel prices and the price of grains and forest products.

The Energy Title also contains provisions for tax credits, tariff extensions, and revenue raisers intended to nurture the emerging alternative energy and fuels industry.

Any farmer can tell you that rural America no longer just puts food on our plates; farmers now put fuel into our gas tanks and help provide power for our homes and businesses. Agriculture will be at the forefront of our nation’s efforts to wean the country off of foreign oil, and the farm bill is helping provide the tools needed to reach that goal.