RESTON, Va. — The National Wildlife Federation has announced a proposal to help farmers switch to growing a new generation of biofuel crops. The plan would enroll up to five million acres of land to promote the sustainable production of next generation biomass energy.

"Biofuels represent a big part of our energy future, and this proposal represents a groundbreaking new direction," says Julie Sibbing, National Wildlife Federation Senior Program Manager for Agriculture Policy. "Native grasses, trees, and other plants have the potential to double energy yields per acre, with just a fraction of the energy needed to produce corn-based ethanol. As these new technologies come on line, they will be key to our future clean energy production. The use of these fuels will also help stem global warming by decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and storing carbon."

The Biofuels Innovation Program would provide financial and technical assistance to landowners to produce native perennial energy crops and crop mixes in a manner that protects the nation's soil, air, water and wildlife. The growing of these dedicated energy crops would help support the development or expansion of facilities that use the material for biofuels, electricity, heat, or bio-based products. The program could be enacted under the energy title of the Farm Bill of 2007.

“Farmers, hunters, and anglers will reap the benefits of this program,” says Spencer Tomb, an associate professor at Kansas State University and a National Wildlife Federation board member. ”Our native grasses which are so important to wildlife have been disappearing but this program provides an important incentive to plant mixes of natives that can do double duty for energy and wildlife.”

The Biofuels Innovation Program would support a wide variety of feedstocks and technologies. In the true spirit of innovation, while the program would support production of switchgrass for ethanol, it would also support jojoba for biodiesel, mixed prairie grasses for gasification to generate electricity, trees or grasses for “co-generation” of electricity, and other alternative energies. The plants used must be perennials native to the United States, and not have the potential to become invasive.

In order for a facility that uses biomass to be economically viable, the biomass it utilizes must be grown within a relatively concentrated area to ensure manageable transportation costs. Most experts describe this area as being within a 50 to 70 mile radius of the facility. The Biofuels Innovation Program is designed to address this issue by requiring groups of landowners to come together to apply for funding as a project, rather than as individual landowners.

“To avoid the worst impacts of global warming, we need to use energy more efficiently, and use clean energy technologies,” says Kurt Zwally, National Wildlife Federation Global Warming Solutions Manager. “The Biofuels Innovation Program provides an incentive to grow our energy future in a way that provides multiple benefits for farmers, wildlife, hunters and anglers and energy users. It's a win-win-win plan.”