As Florida's farmers explore the possibilities of alternative crops, they should heavily consider planting and harvesting Pongamia – a low-input, high yield tree cop. Pongamia trees produce beans that can be used similarly to soybeans for plant protein in food and feed ingredients. Cultivars of Pongamia yield four times the beans per acre compared to US soybeans.
Pongamia offers an excellent opportunity for Florida landowners looking for alternative crops they can scale on former citrus fields damaged by hurricanes or greening disease. Pongamia trees are resilient, tolerant to salinity, heat, flooding, and drought, and found naturally in coastal areas. Pongamia can survive being submerged in water for over a week. In contrast, most citrus trees start to suffer after 72 hours of flooding. This resilience gives farmers more time to drain fields following tropical storms or hurricanes. Pongamia is also ideal for replacing citrus because it can be planted without any significant changes made to agricultural infrastructure. Pongamia leaves and beans also have a bitter taste that makes it a natural pest repellent. These properties make Florida land perfect for venturing into the plant protein industry with Pongamia.
Farmers are especially attracted to Pongamia's sustainability attributes, including carbon storage and nitrogen production for healthy soils. Many environmentalists are worried about the spread of soy plants. Much of the land around the globe that is used to grow soybeans is not sufficiently regulated, and there is fear that soy plants may prove harmful to the environments of South American and Asian countries. Pongamia is non-GMO and can be grown organically with a fraction of the water needed for soy crops. Many consumers now prefer organic products, and 99.7% of soybeans are non-organic. While conventional soy usually nets 9$/bushel, organic soy increases in price to over 24$/bushel. Consumers are willing to pay more for organic products, and an alternative to non-organic soybeans is highly marketable.
Terviva, an agricultural firm specializing in Pongamia, already has 150,000 trees under contract with existing customers that include several of the largest citrus farmers in Florida, with plans to deliver an additional 300,000 trees in the coming years."We've developed a sustainable, market-driven approach for farmers to profit from empty Ag land by cultivating trees that can feed the planet," says Naveen Sikka, founder and CEO of TerViva. "We're thankful to have support from leaders in Florida agriculture and look forward to planting hundreds of thousands of more trees here in the months and years ahead."