The Agriculture Department is seeking input on how to measure reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from crops grown as biofuel feedstocks, part of an effort to increase production of sustainable aviation fuel. 

The agency announced a request for information Wednesday to potentially develop standards that would allow USDA to quantify, verify and accurately report climate-smart practices happening on farms and production units.

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the RFI at the Clean Fuels Alliance America’s annual member meeting and fly-in. The alliance's membership includes biodiesel, renewable diesel and SAF producers, as well as soybean and canola farmers. 

The goal is for USDA to show the Treasury Department that there’s a way to verify results and emission reductions from individual practices as opposed to a combination of practices, as existing tax credits for SAF require. Additionally, it could better reflect the variations in farming practices in different regions. 

"Standards that differentiate between crops grown with and without climate-smart farming practices could incentivize further adoption of climate-smart farming and corresponding reductions in GHG emissions," the request says.

"This RFI is an opportunity that we are presenting to speak about that farmer experience, to educate the rest of the world that farming isn't monolithic," Vilsack said. "This gives us an opportunity to speak about those experiences and how policies need to provide incentives that reflect that diversity."

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Information from the RFI could also support expanding the number of crops available for credits, which could give airlines more options and greater competition. 

USDA wants to hear which crops and practices should be considered as biofuel feedstock crops. The agency is also exploring systems to trace feedstocks through the biofuel supply chain, the data needed to verify practice adoption and maintenance, third-party verification of these practices and the analysis needed to quantify greenhouse gas outcomes of practices.

The RFI is not specific to the 45Z tax credit which is still being developed by the Treasury Department. But as the agency considers standards, findings could be incorporated into the credit and other clean aviation fuel programs, Vilsack said. 

The 40B tax credit, released in April, allowed corn ethanol to qualify as SAF if producers use no-till, cover crops and enhanced efficiency fertilizers. Soy oil could qualify if the soybeans were grown using no-till and cover crops on the same acreage.

Vilsack said the agency has heard from producers that the bundling required in 40B isn’t reflective of all farming practices, or isn’t possible in parts of the country. 

While 40B contained important updates, it was not perfect, Vilsack said. 45Z, which is set to replace 40B, will be done by rulemaking, which provides more opportunities for flexibility, he said. 

Tom_Vilsack_24_Classic_4.jpgUSDA Secretary Tom Vilsack

Vilsack emphasized that the industry needs to move quickly on the RFI. USDA will only accept comments until July 26, and then will begin to evaluate the feedback. He said it’s important the Treasury Department releases guidance on 45Z soon, ideally in the fall, for the industry to have more clarity. 

“Whether it’s the farmers' decision to plant … or it's the ability of the airlines to properly price the sustainable aviation fuel. It would be helpful to have this in the fall,” Vilsack said to reporters.

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