Biofuel in the woods?

Published 12:14 am Monday, March 29, 2010

NATCHEZ — A half-million dollars has been obligated for biofuel incentives in Adams County, at least for the time being.

The Biomass Crop Assistance Program was authorized in the 2002 farm bill and amended in the 2008 farm bill, Adams County Farm Service Agency Executive Director Stacy McKay said.

The goal of the program was to take things that were formerly considered agriculture and forestry waste material and convert them into forms that could generate energy, said local businessman Vidal Davis, whose company participates in the program.

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“It is intended to take materials that ordinarily may not be in the woods and apply it to energy production,” Davis said. “It is a subsidy to assist companies that are in the wood business pick up products in the woods that they might not ordinarily pick up.”

The money is helpful for those starting up with the program, Davis said.

“It takes a fair amount of money for these loggers to gear up and take advantage of that,” he said. “It takes a chipper, a grinder and a lot more time to gather that material you would normally leave in the woods.”

An example of what gets left behind is portions of trees that loggers normally don’t use.

“When we top the trees in the woods, the tops of the trees and the limbs are (cut off and) left out there,” Davis said.

From there, the leftover materials are collected and converted into forms that can be put into a furnace at certified companies, McKay said.

“They take byproducts like chips, smashing and bark and use it for biofuel,” he said. “They are basically converting that material to heat and power.”

However, the program has only been funded through March 31.

At present, the program is being reviewed to ensure that the materials being converted into fuel are actually material that would normally have been left behind, Davis said.

And, assuming those new guidelines are approved, there’s no guarantee it will be written back into the farm bill, McKay said.

“From there, we will have to wait and see if the USDA will continue with the program,” he said.