California-based TerViva has patented high-yielding pongamia trees that can yield up to ten times more oil and three times more protein per acre compared to soybeans (according to the TerViva research). Also, these trees require little to moderate amounts of water, fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides to achieve optimal yields. The company is hoping their pongamia tree varieties will eventually gain further commercial traction after raising $20 million in a series D funding round.
Pongamia trees are native to India and Australia, and their seeds are about the size of almonds, although some varieties can grow much larger. The crop has drawn the nickname “vertical soy” as the seeds are in the legume family and are suitable for protein meal, livestock feed, high-oleic oil, and nutmilk.
However, FDA has not yet certified edible TerViva pongamia tree products as GRAS (generally recognized as safe), and bearing acreage is still very small relative to other oilseed crops. TerViva plans to have around 350,000 trees planted throughout Hawaii and Florida by 2022. Former Hawaiian sugarcane fields and Floridian orange groves have been identified as prime land for pongamia orchards due to suitable tropical climates. Of interest to Florida growers, pongamia trees may be a good replacement crop for groves afflicted by greening disease.
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