Pongamia oil may replace Florida orange juice
Greening disease has decimated much of the citrus crop i n F l o r i d a s i nc e 2 0 0 5 , a n d some citrus growers are switching to the pongamia tree, a native of Australia and India which produces an oilseed 10 times higher yielding than soybeans.
They hope an economically v i a b l e ve g e t a b l e o i l a n d protein industry can repair damage to the citrus industry. If it is successful, Irish farmers may yet be feeding pongamia instead of soyabean to their livestock.
A company called Terviva has raised more than $20m ( € 1 7 . 4 m) t o c o m m e r c i a l i s e renewable energy and food production, and Terviva has established 12 pilot groves of this long-living tree in Florida. According to Terviva, pongamia produced three times more protein-rich cake for animal feed than soybeans. Its chief agriculture officer, Peter Mcclure, used to manage 12,000 acres of prime citrus land until the greening disease setback, and he was delighted to find that pongamia, like citrus, thrives in the poor soils of central Florida. Compared to citrus, pongamia is a legume, and therefore requires much less nitrogen fertiliser. Pongamia nuts typically yield about 40% oil, which adds up to about 400 gallons per acre, compared to 40 gallons for soybeans. Only palm oil outyields pongamia on a per-acre basis. Petroleum companies have tested pongamia oil and found its composition suitable for biofuel and bio jet fuel.
In full production, a grove could gross about $2,000 per acre annually, with net returns of about $1,000 per acre, according to Peter Mcclure. He sees potential for 100,000-200,000 acres of pongamia in Florida.
“We had 800,000 acres of citrus when greening came i n . Yo u c a n ’ t g r o w 8 0 0 , 0 0 0 acres of blueberries, peaches or pomegranates, because the market isn’t big enough. With pongamia’s biological fit in Florida, and the existing huge markets for oil and protein, you can scale up and grow 100,000 to 200,000 acres or more without breaking the market.”
Florida has lost an estimated 500,000 acres plus (50% loss in 10 years) of citrus, mostly to greening disease. Terviva also has a pongamnia project in Hawaii, where it could replace 200,000 acres of sugarcane abandoned due to competition.
The pongamia pinnata tree nuts yield about 400 gallons per acre of oil, compared to 40 gallons for soybeans, and three times more protein for animal feed than soybeans.