Bioenergy farm leases: Invasion concerns
As the bioenergy industry in the United States expands to meet increased demands for transportation fuel under the Renewable Fuel Standard and electrical power under state Renewable Portfolio Standards, farmers will seek the ability to grow dedicated, high yielding energy crops of a perennial nature on leased property. This is the second in a series of short articles intended to address a range of legal issues raised in a bioenergy farm lease. Our first article addressed the necessity of long-term leasing provisions. In this article, we address leasing provisions related to the potential invasiveness concerns associated with some bioenergy crops. Our third article will address leasing provisions related to the possibility of rhizome reclamation as an added element of perennial biomass production.
Increasing energy demands, a desire to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, and a greater awareness of climate change have led both state and federal governments to pursue alternative energy sources. Although biomass-derived energy has been researched in the United States and Europe for decades, recently renewed public and political interest has sparked explosive growth in the biofuel industry. The current interest in biofuels has our nation's scientists looking for plant species capable of increased biomass production and exhibiting traits such as rapid growth, the ability to outcompete local vegetation, prolific seed production, increased tolerance to a variety of soils and climatic conditions, a strong resistance to plant pests and diseases, and the lack of predators in the recipient ecosystem. These are traits shared by many invasive plant species, a fact that has some concerned about the risk of these crops becoming invasive within their targeted ecosystems. The question is: how can the economic benefits of growing nonnative crops for bio-based energy be balanced by the concern of cultivating the next noxious weed or invasive plant?
Discussions for resolving this quandary typically revolve around large-scale policy reforms. Noticeably absent in the literature, however, is a consideration of the ability of landowners to protect their property from the risk of invasive species spread through private contracting. One such contract is the farm lease, which can be tailored to minimize the risk of an invasion; as approximately 40% of agricultural land in the U.S. is farmed by someone other than owner, the bioenergy farm lease is an important tool in the protection of agricultural landscapes.