Unlocking New Profits: How Biomass-Based Products May Offer New Revenue for Farmers

April 19, 2024
Main image blog

Learn how to unlock new profits on your farms using biomass-based products, such as poplar trees, crop waste and so much more.

The global biomass market is growing at an exponential rate. The current market is already valued at $127.4 billion and is expected to grow to $203.2 billion by the end of 2032. Of course, the U.S. Farm Bill and other subsidies will affect this number, but with such rapid growth, you can expect it to make a significant difference for suppliers.


With all that money floating around in developing, producing, and managing biomass-based products, there may be surprising new opportunities for farmers to toss their hats in the ring. A farm that is barely getting by on corn and pea subsidies could see a substantial profit by converting some land for biomass.


What are Biomass-Based Products?


Biomass products have existed for millions of years. In the modern era, these are gases and other products made from natural materials like trees, plants, and agriculture/urban waste. An excellent example is a Waste-to-Energy (WTE) Plant. These plants take the massive volumes of trash we put out on the curb and burn them up to create electricity.


In most cases, biomass-based products are divided into three main sectors provided by agriculture. Those are biogas, biodiesel, and bioethanol. All three form a power supply for running different vehicles, machinery, and industrial plants.


What Does this Mean for Farmers?


The tripling of U.S. based biomass demand for energy resources could boost the farming industry by as much as $20 billion in new income. Farmers and rural communities can both reduce global emissions affecting the climate and develop an income stream that benefits some of the most “in-need” areas of our country.


The way it works is by growing certain crops and using local residues to fuel cars and tractors, power homes and buildings, and heat all community-run locations during the winter. That capability is why you see laws and regulations moving through Congress littered with biomass amendments. Everything from a bipartisan energy bill supported by Maine’s Senator Susan Collins in 2016 to earmarks in current Inflation Reduction Acts are tagged with biomass subsidies.


What Crops Do the Best for Biomass-Based Products?


Of course, the trick is finding the right balance of food, flower, and biomass crops to turn a profit. The specific research for which crop works best for any given region of the country will highly depend on local considerations, weather patterns, and community arrangements.


However, there are some reliable crops that already have a high yield. These include:


  • Poplar Trees: Great for the northwest and used to improve water quality with a growth rate of only 2-3 years before harvesting. 
  • High Sugar/Fat Crops: Oilseed crops like canola and sunflowers are used for many different biofuels throughout the Midwest. Oregon produced around 7,200 acres, and Idaho about 22,300 acres. 
  • Crop Waste: This includes organic waste from already-grown items like hazelnut shells, food waste, or non-edible crops. Alaska produces around 250,000 gallons of biodiesel annually by simply recycling cooking oil in this category. 
  • Non-Arable Land: Growing kelp or algae in waterways or basins is crucial to biofuel. It has much less impact on food production and helps treat wastewater, which is also a fuel. 
  • Innovative Fuels: Science is quickly developing new and creative crops that adapt to biofuel use. For example, there are photosynthetic algae that can produce oils, but not be broken down after harvesting to be reused in the future. 


Any of these crops will improve a farmer’s revenue stream. The most common form of biomass-based products you’ll find will be growing corn for ethanol infusion into current market gasoline.


Wrapping Up


If you’re interested in developing your current rural real estate for biomass production, you should start by reading up on the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) from the federal government. This provides financial assistance to farmers in producing biomass feedstock.


This program will also teach farmers how to connect with buyers so there is a financial life cycle capable of supporting the transition into biomass-based products. With a bit of research and a whole lot of patience, this can be the leverage farmers need to turn a failing property into a thriving business.