Perspectives on the role of biofuels and the Conservation Reserve Program in the 2008 Farm Bill
University of Delaware
The expiration of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 provided an opportunity to specifically address the role of agriculture as a bioenergy producer in the newly enacted 2008 Farm Bill. The reauthorization process sought to address the growing need for energy resources, the potential of agriculture to supply bioenergy and biofuels, and whether idle and retired land can and should be reallocated to bioenergy production. Proposals suggested targeting part of the large amount of land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) – a landretirement program that contains over 36 million acres of land – and transforming it into a biomass reserve program that meets the multiple objectives of conservation, energy security, and agricultural growth. This research utilized the E3 Framework (Energy-Environment-Economy) to evaluate various proposals for modifying the CRP to allow contracted acres to be used for bioenergy feedstock production. A land utilization model based on profit maximization was developed to analyze if CRP participants would convert contracted acres to alternate uses and model how farmer income, program cost, biofuel feedstock potential, and cropland usage were affected by four possible CRP program structures between 2007 and 2016. A multi-perspective analysis was employed to judge the results based on environmental and energy implications as well as economic efficiency and recommend an optimum policy solution that balances the conservation mandate of the CRP with the growing demands for land to grow biofuel feedstocks. The optimum policy proposal recommends incorporating sustainable bioenergy production on contracted acres as a primary goal of the Conservation Reserve Program. Landowners would be permitted to submit applications to the Farm Service Agency (FSA) to convert up to 25% of contracted acres to sustainably grow and harvest bioenergy feedstocks. Model results indicate that the optimum policy proposal increases net farm income over a 10-year period, reduces program administration costs, preserves the environmental integrity of the CRP, and expands the availability of biofuel feedstocks. In comparison, actual legislation implemented as part of the 2008 Farm Bill provides substantial support for the development of sustainable 2nd generation domestic biofuel production systems on existing cropland, but fails to capitalize on the available land resources contained within the Conservation Reserve Program.