The Sweet Smell of Success…and Beets!

The Sweet Smell of Success…and Beets!

The Sweet Smell of Success…and Beets!

Who would have ever imagined that the lumpy beet could be such a superhero for St. Lucie County?  Long considered one of the least alluring crops, the humble beet possesses some pretty amazing qualities that might help bring jobs, agriculture, and industry to the Treasure Coast. On Wednesday, June 14th, a team of research and industry leaders established through the leadership of St. Lucie County’s Treasure Coast Research Park, gathered at Tropicana’s feed processing facility in Fort Pierce to test the possibility of turning beets into one of the key ingredients for jet fuel of tomorrow and into an equally important high-nutrient feed for livestock.

The Tropicana test marks the last step in a highly successful 18-month Rural Business Development Grant (RBDG) funded by USDA Rural Development. The grant identified the feasibility of creating this new and important opportunity for the St. Lucie county agriculture industry and for others in Florida who have suffered citrus crop losses from Citrus greening infestation. The RBDG was conducted under the leadership of the Treasure Coast Education, Research, and Development Authority’s (TCERDA), located off Pruitt Research Park Road in St. Lucie County.

Follow-up with the five national and global bio-product producers, prospective St. Lucie beet growers and beet seed companies including industry leader Betaseed, who contributed beets for the Tropicana test can now proceed.  Coupled with strong airline, military and cattle feed demand prospects emerging from the RBDG, project team members with potential public and private funding sources recognize the significance of the project outcome.

Importantly this initial trial was designed to learn if Tropicana’s equipment could process beets as effectively as it does citrus peel, offering the industry leader a viable income stream and means to turn seasonal workers into yearlong staff members. Importantly, the test shows the potential to provide St. Lucie growers with the opportunity to add a new cash crop to compensate for losses to citrus greening.

Leading the critical test was Richard Gieras, Citrus Manufacturing Leader at Tropicana and a team of veteran staff members intimately familiar with the processing equipment at the plant and responsible for adjusting the computerized equipment to operate at peak efficiency for this unusual processing opportunity. Dr. David Dodds, a nationally-recognized industry expert and RBDG project participant from Dodds & Associates in Manlius, New York.  traveled to the Sunshine State to oversee this phase of the project.

Equally intrigued by the possibilities raised by the results and present for the experiment was Larry Davis, General Manager of United Feed Co-Op, Inc. of Okeechobee, who watched each step of the process with great interest because his feed company needs large amounts of the raw material for its own feed production brought in from other states, and he would much prefer to buy locally.

In addition to providing pelletized feed product high in nutrients to help feed livestock in Florida and across the country, the other prime co-product of beet processing is a large amount of sucrose, which can be converted into jet fuels and diesel for trucks and marine use as well as other chemical co-products. These products are in demand by the United States Navy as well as transportation leaders throughout the world. With six major fuel depots in Florida for jets and ships, US Defense officials are keenly interested in the outcome of the project. In fact, Defense Logistics agency fuel purchasers and three airline members of the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI).  CAAFI, represented by its Executive Director Emeritus, Richard Altman, participated in the project team ensuring that the commercial and military customers interests were addressed. A national organization, CAAFI is a coalition of airlines including American Airlines, Federal Express and Jet Blue, aircraft and engine manufacturers, energy producers, researchers, participants and United States government agencies who participated in program meetings and closely followed the outcomes and represented their perspectives during quarterly meetings held at TCERDA.

Commercial aviation, as a prime driver of overall customers’ interest, is committed to achieve net carbon neutral growth in international aviation during the next decade – a goal which requires sustainable fuels as provided by such producers Amyris, Gevo, Global Bioenergies and Lanzatech. These processors have been following developments and have been offered quantities of the Tropicana test output for their analysis. Testing of the outputs of sugar based outputs and/or ethanol is expected from processors to ensure that any follow-up is planned to meet their requirements to ensure successful commercialization.

Building relationships with and being prepared for future engagement with one or more of these industry leaders producing cost-effective sustainable alternatives was a main program goal. Over 145 stakeholders from growers to major end users from all over the country, as well as global producers participated in one or more of the 4 program updates conducted during the program. TCERDA and St. Lucie County achieved recognition as the innovative force behind the program and Florida overall in attracting these key stakeholders who contributed their knowledge, goals and concerns to the dialog and will ultimate attract investment to the county.

The added prospects possible by aiding the States citrus processing industry will allow the county and the state to compete with other states to attract these bio product producers for future commercialization. Capitalizing on the RBDG indeed adds a highlight for the counties’ innovative portfolio of efforts and has become a beacon for others from tourism and related-industries, and private investors that visit us St. Lucie County to look further at what we offer.

The potential for growth and jobs is enormous. According to a 2010 United States Energy Information Administration report for aviation alone, “Jet fuel is a 22-billion gallon per year market in the United States and about 80 billion gallons worldwide.” The Treasure Coast Research Park, through its engagement in the USDA project, has placed St. Lucie county at the heart of industrial sugar and starch based Advanced BioFuel and co product) feedstock and industrial development.

Because the planting and harvest cycle of the beet fits quite nicely with that of Florida’s citrus industry, the potential for this crop to become an additional income and employment stream for Florida agribusiness makes the experimental processing results a win-win for all participants and potential consumers, including St. Lucie County.

The significance of the project overall outcome and the importance of the Tropicana test as its final step was not lost on the Treasure Coast Research Park Board Chair and Agribusiness owner Mike Adams, the premise of the Farm to Fly – From the Ground Up Research Study is simple. “Florida offers affordable sugar and starch rich feedstock.  Local jet fuel production offers a secure in state, jet fuel distribution network and an opportunity to expand the growth of state’s air transportation sector. We are excited by the results of the project and this final trial,” Adams said, “and it is heartening to see industry leaders like Tropicana, and United Feed Co-Op, leaders of the biofuel industry and major end users thinking pro-actively and acting creatively and responsibly regarding our environment and our economic future in Florida and in St. Lucie County. because of the efforts of TCERDA and the vast array of supply chain participants that it has attracted.”

Formed in 2004 and incorporated in 2005 as a collaborative effort of St. Lucie County administrators, agriculture, business, education and research professionals, the Treasure Coast Research Park has been creating an infrastructure and atmosphere of innovation to help create jobs, businesses, and opportunities for St. Lucie County. To learn more about the Treasure Coast Research Park, please contact the Treasure Coast Research Park at 772-467-3107 or today or visit


Note: Link to entire Farm to Fly Feasibility Report can be accessed at: