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Florida aims to harvest green business

By Jay Liles | Tampa Bay Online

An hour's drive west of Tallahassee, in the little town of Cottondale, sits Green Circle, the world's largest wood-pellet manufacturing plant. Its sole operation - reducing wood fiber to horse-pill-size pellets suitable for burning.

Its main customers are coal-fired power plants in Europe. In the future, Olaf Roed, president and CEO of Green Circle, knows U.S. markets will open when a carbon-reduced, cap-and-trade market makes his product more valuable than oil and coal. Green Circle will profit from providing a reliable, sustainable fuel source and from the credits it will earn by replacing carbon-creating fossil fuels.

Green Circle has a work force of more than 70. With a cap on carbon and a trading system for credits, Roed claims he can profitably build two more giant processors. Imagine the multiplier effect - income for tree farmers, haulers, brush-clearing companies, foresters and all those who service these interests.
Heading east from Tallahassee, there is Suwannee Farms, owned by Joe and Kenneth Hall. The Halls also see a carbon-reduced future, one in which oil is too expensive to economically run a modern-day dairy operation and "waste product" is not wasted, but becomes a resource. Cow manure feeds a chemical digester that powers much of the farm's electrical use. Crop residue is plowed back into the soil, and solar arrays light the barns and heat the water. This is agriculture "off the grid" and ready to sell excess "green" power to energize a healthier economy and cleaner environment.

Finally, there is the Lykes Bros. Ranch in south-central Florida. This 100-year-old icon of Florida's timber and cattle barons is a diversified, worldwide conglomerate with interests in cattle ranching, farming, forestry and citrus. Anyone who calls Florida home knows the Lykes brand.

Charlie Lykes and his staff on this Old Florida ranch of 330,000 acres stretching across Highlands and Glades counties can school us on much of what the energy future means for Florida and farming. Lykes, the fourth generation of his family to run the ranch, is growing an energy-cane crop that will produce a biofuel capable of replacing gasoline on a commercial scale.

He points out the many environmentally sound practices employed by the ranch over the past few decades to make the operation sustainable. Lykes and his family want to be sure the next generation of Lykes has the opportunity to conserve this land for the next 100 years or longer.

The ranch has 66 employees; one-third are cowboys. On horseback is still the most cost-effective means to herd cattle - no GPS, no aerial ballet, just man and trusty steed.

Lykes Bros. Ranch combines technology with time-honored horse skills to run one of the nation's most profitable enterprises. The ranch sees opportunity in a carbon-reduced future, using crops to make energy, store carbon and feed the world. The Lykes Bros.' Eco2Asset Solutions subsidiary will teach other landowners how they can benefit from cap and trade as well.

Change has always been part of farming life. The Dust Bowl, mechanization, bioengineered crops and corn-to-fuel - all are part of the evolving farm landscape.

There are those who say carbon reduction and the dreaded cap and trade will be too costly to farmers. They point to higher fuel and fertilizer costs, making the false presumption that fossil fuels, the base ingredient of gas and fertilizer, will not go up in cost in the next two decades.

There are those who see the future and want to lead the way to it; they think clean and green can be profitable, too.

From Green Circle to Suwannee Farms to Lykes Bros. Ranch, and on farms big and small, smart Florida farmers know change is coming. Where some are fearful, others go boldly. Where some see job loss, others are creating jobs.

Rather than the scary unknown, cap and trade presents an opportunity to revive time-tested sustainable practices and values. It's a means to do well while doing good.

It may not be apparent, but the future is almost here - near Tallahassee, in south-central Florida, and for all of us.

Jay Liles is the policy consultant to the Florida Wildlife Federation, a statewide citizens conservation and education organization.

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