John ThuneSen. John Thune (R-SD) has introduced legislation aimed at helping farmers near biorefineries begin growing dedicated energy crops.

According to Thune, the Biofuels Innovation Program Act would offer farmers incentives to grow crops, such as switchgrass and fast-growing trees, for use as cellulosic ethanol feedstocks.

“Cellulosic ethanol, produced from homegrown sources like corn stover, wheat straw, switchgrass and wood chips, has incredible potential to supplement corn-based ethanol. But if cellulosic ethanol is to achieve its potential, it is critical that Congress help this industry overcome initial market barriers” said Thune. “My legislation would spur the construction of biorefineries across the country and provide incentives to farmers in surrounding areas to grow energy dedicated crops that can eventually supply these biorefineries in a cost-effective, environment-friendly way.”

Thune hopes the legislation, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), will be included in the 2007 Farm Bill energy title. Similar legislation has also been introduced in the House.

The bill would fund several USDA feasibility studies to determine the level of interest and likelihood of success for biorefinery constructions. The bill would authorize a cost share and per-acre rental payment for farmers during a contract’s first five years, in order to help the biorefinery get established and build a market. In addition, farmers selling byproducts and residues, such as wheat straw and corn stover, to ethanol plants would be eligible for matching payments of up to $45 per ton.