The 2018 Farm Bill, Part Five: Energy Initiatives for Sustainable Agriculture

by Maya Vesneske

Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series

This is the fifth in a series of Snapshots breaking down the $867 billion Farm Bill that was signed into law on December 20, 2018, and is effective through fiscal year 2023. Each Snapshot focuses on a particular section or topic within the bill and explains its implications for U.S. agriculture over the course of the next five years.

Policy Name: Title IX of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, aka the Farm Bill

Location: The 2018 Farm Bill is a bipartisan, federally-enacted law containing provisions and recommendations that are effective on state and local levels.

Overview: Approximately every five years, the United States Congress passes a new Farm Bill whose purpose is to reevaluate the agricultural landscape of the country and determine new protections, procedures, and funding for the various players in this diverse and interwoven network of food producers, traders, and consumers. Read more about the the general purposes and development of a Farm Bill here.

Title IX of the 2018 Farm Bill covers domestic energy use policies. This article will address the amendments to three primary programs:

  • The Biodiesel Fuel Education Program is intended to further the use of biodiesel through education and outreach on its benefits and necessary infrastructure. The program encourages potential biodiesel consumers to enroll in the biodiesel use incentives provided by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.
  • The Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) supports both farmers and biofuel producers by providing grants to farms in exchange for connecting them with local biodiesel refineries to supply them with critical bioenergy feedstock, such as vegetation and agricultural waste. BCAP includes supporting the transportation of feedstock from farm to facility in order to remove the burden from farmers themselves.
  • The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) furthers farm-based sustainability efforts by helping farmers to produce their own renewable energy and reducing energy costs through the provision of grants and loans to integrate sustainable energy systems into the farm’s agricultural infrastructure.

Program/Policy Initiated: The Biodiesel Fuel Education Program was enacted in 2002 to increase awareness of the efficacy of bioenergy solutions as they were starting to be more commonly used in agricultural industry. BCAP and REAP followed in 2008 to further this growth and to support partnerships between bioenergy feedstock producers and refineries as well as to expand sustainability efforts to include renewable resources. Since then, these policies have been amended periodically to ensure that sufficient funds are allocated to sustainable energy development.

Food policy category:

  • Sustainable Agriculture

Program goals: The programs covered in Title IX of the Farm Bill are intended to popularize sustainable energy and make it more accessible for use in the agricultural industry. Biodiesel offers a more environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional fossil fuels as it is not as carbon-intensive to produce or to burn, and education about its benefits is just as important for promoting its use as infrastructural developments. Similarly, the Rural Energy for America Program has the potential to significantly increase sustainability as incremental adoption of renewable energy on a farm-to-farm basis can help fill the gaps that are created by systematic challenges in large-scale integration of sustainable energy infrastructure.

How it works: All three policies were reauthorized through FY2023. The Biodiesel Fuel Education Program and BCAP were maintained at $2 million and $20 million respectively, while funding for REAP increased from $20 to $50 million annually. The only non-fiscal change in the 2018 bill was to amend BCAP to include potentially flammable harvest in the list of crops eligible for distribution to biofuel processing centers in order to reduce the risk of forest fires.  

Why it is important: In 2016, the agriculture industry was responsible for about 1.9 percent of total U.S. primary energy consumption, more than half of which came from diesel and gas use. The energy title of the Farm Bill plays a critical role in taking practical steps toward building a more sustainable agricultural industry.

Evaluation: Given the current political tension regarding environmental sustainability, the continued focus on providing the agricultural industry with alternative energy solutions is an indication of the increasing awareness that sustainable energy is an important issue that needs to be addressed. Furthermore, the more than 200 percent increase in funding for renewable energy through the Rural Energy for America Program shows a heightened focus on strategic and locally-minded efforts to improve sustainability in the agricultural industry.

Progress to date: Given how recently the current bill was passed, it is too soon to know how these policy changes will affect sustainable energy efforts. That said, we know these programs have promise. For example, between 2008 and 2016, BCAP spent $63 million to help farmers and other agricultural players produce bioenergy feedstocks on more than 53,000 acres. You can also read about some of the projects REAP has supported here.


Similar practices: To understand the context and significance of the changes in the 2018 Farm Bill, it is useful to compare it to previous versions. To learn more about how the 2018 bill compares to the 2014 version, check out the first resource in the “Learn more” section below.

Learn more:


Point of Contact:

House bill sponsor Mike Conaway (R-TX-11), Washington, D.C., office:

Phone: (202) 225-3605

Or, email his office via this form.



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