Florida Farmers Adopt Ancient Indian Pongamia Trees to Replace Declining Citrus Crops, Offering Sustainable Biofuel and Plant-Based Proteins
Florida Farmers Adopt Ancient Indian Pongamia Trees to Replace Declining Citrus Crops, Offering Sustainable Biofuel and Plant-Based Proteins

Florida Farmers Adopt Ancient Indian Pongamia Trees to Replace Declining Citrus Crops, Offering Sustainable Biofuel and Plant-Based Proteins

An ancient tree from India, the pongamia, is now being cultivated in Florida where citrus trees once flourished. The decline of Florida’s citrus industry due to diseases like greening and citrus canker has led farmers to explore alternative crops, and pongamia presents a viable solution.

Known for its resilience to various climates and minimal maintenance requirements, pongamia can produce plant-based proteins and sustainable biofuel, making it an attractive option for farmers.

Pongamia trees, native to India, Southeast Asia, and Australia, were traditionally used for shade and produced inedible legumes. However, unlike citrus trees, pongamia trees do not require fertilizers or pesticides and thrive in both drought and rainy conditions.

Harvesting is also efficient as a machine shakes the beans from the branches. A company named Terviva, founded by Naveen Sikka has developed a process to remove the bitterness from the beans, making them suitable for food production.

Florida Farmers Adopt Ancient Indian Pongamia Trees to Replace Declining Citrus Crops, Offering Sustainable Biofuel and Plant-Based Proteins
Florida Farmers Adopt Ancient Indian Pongamia Trees to Replace Declining Citrus Crops, Offering Sustainable Biofuel and Plant-Based Proteins

The transition to pongamia offers a new opportunity for Florida’s farmers, particularly those who have been struggling with declining citrus crops. The tree’s potential to produce biofuel and food products is significant. Ron Edwards, a Florida citrus grower, and Terviva’s board chairman, highlighted the tree’s benefits, including supporting local biodiversity and yielding high-grade protein and oil, which can be used in various industries.

Pongamia’s adaptability makes it a promising crop for Florida, aligning with sustainable farming practices. At a nursery in Fort Pierce, workers propagate pongamia trees to ensure desirable characteristics.

The historical decline of citrus due to diseases like citrus canker and greening, coupled with climate challenges, has devastated the industry. In contrast, pongamia is resilient to such issues, presenting a sustainable alternative for former citrus lands.

Farmers like John Olson have embraced pongamia, replacing their citrus groves with this hardier tree. Olson noted the challenges of maintaining citrus groves amidst disease outbreaks and the economic risk involved.

The low-maintenance nature of pongamia and its potential to repurpose dormant citrus land makes it an attractive option. Edwards pointed out the ecological benefits of pongamia, which could replace environmentally harmful crops like palm oil.

Terviva has partnered with Mitsubishi Corporation to develop pongamia-derived biofuels, including biodiesel and sustainable aviation fuel. This collaboration is expected to boost Terviva’s growth and product development.

Additionally, pongamia beans are being researched for food products, with promising results like graham crackers, table oil, and plant-based protein products. The tree offers an alternative protein source, appealing to those seeking non-meat options.

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