In the Southeast there is an acreage base of 83.4 million acres of cropland and cropland pasture and 182.8 million acres of forest land. To produce the biofuels necessary from this region, an advanced biofuel production of 10.5 billion gallons from 9.5 million acres, 11.4 percent of the available cropland and cropland pasture acreage base, would be required for fuel use.

Worldwide, it is estimated that biomass provides the stock for about 14 percent of the primary energy. In the U.S. some estimates go as high as 4 percent and others less than one percent. Worldwide, biomass is the fourth largest energy resource behind coal, oil and natural gas.

There is little doubt the Southeast has the land base to grow large acreages of biomass crops without substantially reducing the current acreage used to produce food and fiber. The question is how to put a federally mandated demand and farmer interest together.

“Which crop is going to be ‘the’ crop, how best to grow and most importantly how to market it and at what cost, are huge questions that must be answered before farmers buy into biomass production on a large scale,” says Frederick.

Clearly there is interest among farmers and landowners, Frederick says, noting that over 300 people attended the latest South Carolina Biofuels Summit. “That’s pretty good interest for an industry that doesn’t yet exist,” he quips.

We know we have to find another 20 billion gallons of fuel from somewhere other than corn-based ethanol and biodiesel. We suspect about 10 billion gallons of this extra fuel will have to come from the Southeast, but so far we don’t know how that’s going to happen.

“If it happens, we know it’s going to have to happen in rural areas and landowners and farmers will be needed to supply the huge amount of stock material to produce 10 billion gallons of cellulosic fuel.

“We are starting a huge rural industry basically from nothing and it needs to be in operation in 12 years. That level of financial input from the federal government and private enterprise could revitalize rural industries across the Southeast,” McCaskill says.

rroberson@farmpress.com