In LaBelle, a company called My Dream Fuel LLC is cultivating Jatropha curcas, a tree-shrub that shows promise as a new biodiesel crop in the U.S. that could one day power engines and generators.
Nearly 1 million seedlings are in the ground at a nursery in Hendry County and promoters are looking for farmers – here and across the country – to raise them as oil-producing plants.
Researchers say the plant can produce four times more fuel per acre than soy, and 10 times more than corn.
The demand for oil from the plant already is strong, said Paul Dalton, a former child advocate and attorney who owns My Dream Fuel.
“There are about 100 buyers for every gallon you produce,” he said.
In India, there are large plantations with millions of Jatropha trees and My Dream Fuel has a contract with the government to train 1,500 farmers to grow the trees. In China, there are now more than 1 million acres of Jatropha growing.
Locally, Dalton has so much faith in the trees that he expects to put another 1 million in the ground in LaBelle before June.
His company is one of the first to do large plantings of trees in the U.S., he said.
Some of the trees came from a cloning plant in Mysore, India, and some came from the company’s own testing program.
The cloning plant here will be able to churn out plants at the rate of 1 million a month, Dalton said.
Dalton expects his seedlings to go quickly. Last year, his company sold its entire inventory of about 12,000 trees in four days, he said. Back then, the trees were in pots and there wasn’t a nursery.
“We know of a couple of groups from New York and from Spain that want to plant in Texas and Brazil. So in the next couple of weeks, we may exhaust our current supply,” Dalton said.
In Southwest Florida, Dalton is targeting citrus growers with diseased trees and cattle ranchers looking to diversify.
The dreaded canker and greening diseases have left thousands of acres of citrus land sitting bare, which could be used to grow the new energy crop. The hardy Jatropha is more resistant to disease and can survive a three-year drought.