07/11/12 — Sign-up period under way for those who want to grow hybrid biofuel grass

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Sign-up period under way for those who want to grow hybrid biofuel grass

By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 11, 2012 1:46 PM

CLINTON -- The sign-up period has begun for people who want to grow hybrid perennial grasses for a facility that would convert the grasses into ethanol even though no formal announcement has been made as to whether or not the plant will be built.

The USDA, through its Biomass Crop Assistance Program, has allocated almost $4 million for a 4,300-acre target area where the grasses would be grown. The area includes Wayne, Duplin, Sampson, Bladen, Cumberland, Greene, Johnston, Jones, Lenoir, Onslow and Pender counties.

The area is sponsored by Chemtex International Inc.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture website, the Chemtex project known as Project Alpha, would be located on about 166 acres south of Warsaw Road between Fontana Street and Clive Jacobs Road southeast of Clinton in Sampson County. The facility would occupy about 22 acres for operations and services.

However, Chemtex has yet to make a formal announcement that it will build the $90 million ethanol biofuels plant that would create 65 new and mostly local jobs with average salaries of $48,415. Wayne County also had been considered as a possible location for the plant.

Company officials have said they were attracted to the area because of the abundance of spray fields used by swine producers to disperse swine lagoon wastewater.

Producers who sign up for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program would grow Freedom Giant Miscanthus and switch grass on the spray fields.

The objective for the target area is to annually produce 76,000 green tons of biomass-based renewable fuel yielding more than 20 million gallons annually.

The plant could produce some 20 million gallons of ethanol annually.

The Farm Service Agency will administer the program on behalf of the Commodity Credit Corporation with conservation planning assistance from the Natural Resources Conservation Service and others.

Wayne County FSA Executive Director Rick Tharrington said he is aware of the program, but that his office is waiting on a software update. Also, he said that his office had been concentrating on finishing gathering and compiling data about the county's different crop plantings and harvest.

Tharrington said there is some experience in the county with growing switch grass, but that he was not familiar with Freedom Giant Miscanthus grass. It is not a traditional grass, and Tharrington said he didn't know how many people would be interested in its production.

The Biomass Crop Assistance Program is similar to other conservation programs, he said.

The FSA will enter into five-year contracts with eligible producers to grow the grasses on cropland enrolled in Biomass Crop Assistance Program. They would receive start-up support and a five-year subsidy to transport their harvest to Chemtex.

The sign-up period will end Friday, Sept. 14.

Anyone interested in participating in the project area should visit the FSA office, 209 W. Spruce St. Information about the Biomass Crop Assistance Program may be found at www.fsa.usda.gov/bcap.