The following piece appeared in Biofuels Digest from BIO's Executive Vice President for Industrial & Environmental section Brent Erickson:
As we move closer to celebrating the end of 2018, Congress has given those working in America’s bio-based and agricultural sectors a reason to celebrate early. The 2018 Farm Bill has passed both chambers of Congress, with overwhelming bipartisan support, and is now set to be delivered to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, so it can be signed into law.
The road to this point, however, was years in the making.
BIO and its member companies have been working closely with Congress throughout the bill’s evolution to ensure it provides much-needed support to innovative technologies and rural America.
Contrary to some beliefs, the Farm Bill supports more than just America’s agriculture sector. The bill’s energy title programs provide critical support to companies and manufacturers working on innovations in renewable chemicals, advanced biofuels and other products of industrial biotechnology throughout the value chain. And these technologies are creating new jobs in rural America.
Understanding the importance of these programs, BIO took the lead in advocating for bio-based industries and made sure Congress heard the benefits early and often. BIO’s President and CEO Jim Greenwood noted the benefit of these programs in testimony to Congress when work first began on this important legislation in 2017.
“Farm Bill energy title programs have been incredibly successful in incentivizing the biobased economy,” he explained. “Because of the research, loans, and grants provided by these programs, industrial biotechnology companies are developing new feedstocks, industrial enzymes, and biological catalysts for the conversion of biomass for the production of advanced biofuels, alternative jet fuels, renewable chemicals and biobased products.”
When negotiations began on the bill, BIO’s advocacy was two-fold: improve Farm Bill programs to better support these companies as they continue building the bio-based economy, and ensure these programs are adequately funded so they can be effective.
As a result, several program improvements were made to the energy title due to BIO’s expertise and input, including the Biobased Markets Program, which authorizes the “BioPreferred Program.” The new bill directs USDA to educate agencies on how to navigate voluntary labeling programs in federal purchasing to ensure the value of bio-based products are understood and these products are prioritized. Additionally, the bill instructs USDA to establish a methodology for determining the amount of bio-content in products, and thus eligibility of products for the BioPreferred program and the “USDA Certified Biobased Product” label.
These improvements will allow more bio-based products to qualify for the “BioPreferred” program and raise awareness amongst government agencies to the value and benefit of purchasing bio-products. The new farm bill also increases funding for this program to $3 million annually.
BIO also advocated for improvements to the Biorefinery Assistance Program, which helps companies in rural America who are building new biorefineries—whether for renewable chemicals, biofuels or other bio-based products—secure financing.
Previously, the program required companies to produce an advanced biofuel in order to qualify for the program, leaving standalone renewable chemical facilities out. BIO worked diligently with the agriculture committee leadership to ensure the 2018 Farm Bill allows standalone manufacturers of renewable chemicals, biofuels and bio-based products to qualify for this program. BIO also ensured the final conference committee report provided mandatory funding for this program.
Because of BIO’s advocacy, the bill also directs the Office of Budget and Management to process all applications for this program within 30 days. This will provide a clearer timeline for applicants on when they may secure potential financing and when they can begin building their biorefineries.
Overall, the 2018 Farm Bill includes $625 million in mandatory funding across all energy title programs, and the ”BioPreferred” program received an increase in mandatory funding compared to the 2014 bill.
Mandatory funding is critical because without it, the effectiveness of these programs is at the mercy of Congress and the amount of discretionary funding they permit each year. By including mandatory funding of these programs, Congress is providing much-needed certainty to farmers, companies, manufacturers and others working to build America’s bio-based economy that these programs will continue to exist.
BIO also helped ensure that algae could now qualify as an eligible material under the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP). While BIO was disappointed the program did not receive mandatory funding, the bill does authorize discretionary funding. BIO will be working in 2019 to secure funding for BCAP in the appropriations process.
Outside of the energy title, BIO worked to ensure the 2018 Farm Bill also provides a clearer description of what biostimulants are and directs an interagency report on how best to regulate them. As companies continue developing these new class of enzymes, microbes and other chemicals to assist with plant and soil health, this clarification will dictate and improve their regulatory pathway to market.
Thanks to Congress and BIO’s advocacy efforts, the Farm Bill’s energy title programs will be fully operational in the new year. And the improvements made to these programs will be seen for years to come through the growth of the bio-based economy.
BIO understands that the road does not end here, however. BIO will continue working closely with Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure proper implementation and to secure and gain more funding for these programs into the future.