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New Farm Bill benefits algae farmers

January 7, 2019

New farm bill

Qualitas’ Imperial site currently employs 11 people for the 19 ponds it has in operation.
Courtesy: Fort Stockton Pioneer

Steve Fountain writes in that, amid the 800-page law that last month set the country’s farm policy through 2023, is the expansion of federal support for algae agriculture — a change that had been long sought by the industry. Few farms have welcomed the news more enthusiastically than Qualitas’ algae farm, in the Pecos County town of Imperial, 30 miles from Fort Stockton, California. “We nailed it,” said Bart Reid, the director of algae production at the Qualitas site.

The Imperial site currently produces algae used for omega-3 supplements. With the new farm bill, the door is open for algae to be used as a protein source in food and more. “Algae may seem like an unusual crop right now, but in 10 years everyone will have something in their daily lives made from algae: food, clothes, plastic, something,” Mr. Reid said.

The law places algae among the nation’s top priorities for new crop deployment and provides support for the development of algae and related technologies in nutrient management, soil health, carbon recycling and other farm and rural applications, according to an analysis by the Algae Biomass Organization (ABO).

Among the changes in the new Farm Bill, according to the ABO analysis:

  • Crop Insurance: Algae are explicitly added under the definition of “agricultural commodity” for the purposes of federal crop insurance programs, paving the way for federal crop insurance for algae production.
  • Algae Agriculture Research Program: Establishes a new USDA Algae Agriculture Research Program to address challenges in farm-scale algae production and support development of algae-based agriculture solutions.
  • Biomass Crop Assistance Program: Provides for the first time, full eligibility to algae under the Biomass Crop Assistance Program. BCAP provides financial support to farmers for establishment, production and delivery of new biomass crops.
  • Bio-based Markets Program (BioPreferred): Directs USDA to establish methodology providing full credit for bio-based content for products from biologically recycled carbon. Current USDA methodology excludes bio-based products from recycled carbon.
  • Biorefinery Assistance (9003 Loan Guarantee) Program: Expands the section 9003 loan guarantee program to allow algae-based and other biorefinery projects for the manufacture of renewable chemicals and bio-based products to qualify regardless of whether biofuels will be produced.
  • Carbon Capture and Use: Adds several provisions expanding CCU research, education and outreach at the Department of Agriculture.

“In total, these provisions represent a dramatic advance in federal algae policy with the potential to greatly expand U.S. algae production and rapidly accelerate development and deployment of innovative algae agriculture technologies,” said a statement from the Algae Biomass Organization.

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