To area farmers, the beets are an ideal crop: they grow in poor and salty soils, and can use lesser-quality water, said Frank DelTesta, a third generation farmer who used to grow 150 acres of beets in Tranquility and is now growing some for the demo plant.
"Everybody liked growing beets, because they grew well here," DelTesta said. "My family has been growing beets for generations and not having that crop in our rotation has affected the yields for other crops like cotton."
And it's not just farmers who would benefit, said project manager Jim Tischer. The group's projections show the bio-refinery would create about 100 long-term jobs, as well as 150 seasonal agricultural jobs. It would lead to millions of dollars of local economic activity and generate taxes â¿¿ a boon to Mendota, Tischer said, a town of 11,000 with one of the highest unemployment rates in the state.
The beet project comes at a time when the Midwest drought has reduced corn's availability, leading nearly three dozen corn ethanol plants to halt production. At the same time, there are plenty of stockpiles of ethanol, experts say, because Americans are driving less and buying more fuel-efficient cars.But the beet farmers say they aren't worried, because ethanol is cheaper than regular gasoline. "As times goes by, customers will start buying more of it," Diener said, "because at the end of the day, it's a cost saving deal and others are motivated by the ethics of the green energy business."