The omnibus Farm Bill signed into law Thursday by President Trump will impact agriculture from food stamps to hemp production.
Amid the 800-page law that set the country’s farm policy through 2023 is the expansion of federal support for algae agriculture – a change that had been long sought by the industry and, locally, the Qualitas algae farm in the Pecos County town of Imperial, 30 miles from Fort Stockton.
“We nailed it,” said Bart Reid, the director of algae production at the Qualitas site.
The law places algae among the nation’s top priorities for new crop deployment and provides support for the development of algae and related technologies in nutrient management, soil health, carbon recycling and other farm and rural applications, according to an analysis by the Algae Biomass Organization (ABO).
“We are not high tech or bio tech we are farming – just like cotton or wheat or whatever,” said Reid. “Our West Texas Representatives like (Will) Hurd and (Mike) Conaway really came through for us as they recognize that the algae industry could thrive in West Texas and bring some of that ‘economic diversity’ that everyone talks about.”
The Imperial site currently produces algae used for Omega 3 supplements. With the new farm bill, the door is open for algae to be used as a protein source in food and more.
“Algae may seem like an unusual crop right, now but in 10 years everyone will have something in their daily lives made from algae: food, clothes, plastic, something,” Reid said.
Back in August, Rebecca White, Ph.D., who is Qualitias’ vice president of operations, summed up the need for change this way:
“We don’t want a handout. We want access,” said White.
The new law gives the algae industry that access. Among the changes, according to the ABO analysis:
• Crop Insurance: Algae are explicitly added under the definition of “agricultural commodity” for the purposes of federal crop insurance programs, paving the way for federal crop insurance for algae production.
• Algae Agriculture Research Program: Establishes a new USDA Algae Agriculture Research Program to address challenges in farm-scale algae production and support development of algae-based agriculture solutions
• Biomass Crop Assistance Program: Provides for the first time full eligibility to algae under the Biomass Crop Assistance Program. BCAP provides financial support to farmers for establishment, production and delivery of new biomass crops
• Biobased Markets Program (BioPreferred): Directs USDA to establish methodology providing full credit for biobased content for products from biologically recycled carbon. Current USDA methodology excludes bio-based products from recycled carbon.
• Biorefinery Assistance (9003 Loan Guarantee) Program: Expands the section 9003 loan guarantee program to allow algae-based and other biorefinery projects for the manufacture of renewable chemicals and biobased products to qualify regardless of whether biofuels will be produced
• Carbon Capture and Use: Adds several provisions expanding CCU research, education and outreach at the Department of Agriculture.
“It total, these provisions represent a dramatic advance in federal algae policy with the potential to greatly expand U.S. algae production and rapidly accelerate development and deployment of innovative algae agriculture technologies,” according to a statement from the Algae Biomass Organization.
The changes are expected to expand the economic boost algae has provided to the county. The Imperial site employs 11 people and operates 19 ponds, but has the land to dramatically expand.
Pecos County has an ideal mix of conditions to grow algae.
“You need 300 plus days of sunshine, lots of salty water that no one else wants and lots of cheap land,” Reid said. “West Texas perfect for this kind of farming.”
He noted that algae can be harvested 30-35 per year, so more production can be taken from an acre of land than with a traditional staple crop.
Reid say the county has the infrastructure in place from the energy industry to make it a prime site for more algae farming operations. He also noted that algae framing will not take resources away from other crops.
Reid also said advances in using algae in waste water treatment opens up a whole other series of options.
“You treat wastewater with algae and get a usable product out in the end.,” Reid said. “It’s really effective.”
The Imperial site currently employs 11 people. It currently operated 19 ponds but has a lot of room ready to expand.
Reid is very pleased with the changes.
“We were not asking for any special treatment, just to be recognized as a legit form of agriculture like everyone else,” Reid said. “We didn't ask for price supports and the like. We just wanted equal treatment – a chance at developing a crop insurance program to reduce the financial risk and for algae research programs in government and universities be supported by USDA, SeaGrant, etc.”