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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Keeping A Sunny Attitude At The Pittman Farm By Bo McMullian

By Bo McMullian

“If at first you don’t succeed, try try again”.

Although Jackson County mega-farmer Jeff Pittman’s “sunflowers-to-off-road diesel fuel” experiment was a near bust earlier this year, he remains undaunted. He’s growing 300 acres of the spectacular floral crop again this year. The sunflowers always face east, no matter what, and right now they can be seen in abundance all around the fourth generation Pittman farmlands in the Lovedale Community near Two Egg, Florida.

Pittman grew the first sunflower crop last year behind a field corn harvest, utilizing residual fertilizer and herbicides. He planned to make sunflower oil, then convert it to B100 diesel fuel for use on his own farm to offset ever-increasing energy costs. But this last March, when Pittman was ready with his harvest, the company that was going to provide the seed press and conversion unit went out of business, a victim of the plunging economy,

“We finally sold the sunflower seeds to a company that resales to consumers as bird seed,” Pittman said. “That helped us to recover costs and to extend the experiment.”

Then along came Nathan Torro, of the Washington County Vo-Tech School, who had heard about Pittman’s experiments by word-of-mouth. He took what was left of the seeds, a couple of tons, and using equipment at the school, and EUREKA! They produced a small amount of usable B100 diesel. And there was a by-product, Pittman said. “All from the press that is not oil can be made into a very good cow feed.”

But Pittman doesn’t want to go that route again this year. He wants to have his own press and conversion unit. He is determined to do something to combat those rising prices at the diesel pumps.

“In 2008, $2 a gallon was a historical high,” he told the Jackson County Times on Tuesday. “Then it shot up to $4 a gallon, and that was a tragedy especially when $2 was almost out of reach for us. It finally came down to $1.90 for farm fuel, off-road vehicles. That’s still too much, but with that being said, I still don’t want to give up. Our goal is to make B100 for use here on the farm for about $1 per gallon.”

Pittman farms upwards of 6,000 acres and irrigation is costly. He says about 30,000 gallons of fuel are used by his irrigation motors to pump and distribute water. He wants to use half, 15,000 gallons, next year from his own B100 supplies. Those irrigation motors that don’t move are best for experimental fuels because of possible residue and impurities problems.

There are a lot of variables like the weather, the quality of the yield and the quality of the product, Pittman said, “but we’re learning as we go.”

“It’s all about finding a way to stay here on the farm, where we are blessed,” Pittman said, “and to stay profitable and independent.

Pittman has been farming since he graduated from Malone High School in 1989, and in reality, a little bit before that. Eventually he bought out his dad, former Jackson County Commissioner Milton Pittman, who raised him on a smaller version of the family farm.

Jeff and his wife Ginger have three children; Jeffrey, 18; Mary Katherine, 13; and Wilton Grant, 8. Jeff is the District 2 State Director for the Florida Farm Bureau, President of the Jackson County Farm Bureau, and a member of the American Farm Bureau Cotton and Peanut Advisory Committee. He also serves as a board member of the Jackson County Cattlemen’s Association and is Secretary/Treasurer for the Florida Peanut Producers.

We wish Jeff great success, and hope he always keeps the “Sunny Side Up”!

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