FELDA, Fla. - Southwest Florida farmers say they may have the solution for cleaning up the Gulf oil spill.
It's an idea WINK News first showed you last week from Pensacola. There, farmers were pushing the use of a plant called kenaf to help soak up oil.
It's a crop that's been grown in our area for years.
"We've got about 1,500 acres of kenaf total in the co-op, these fields represent about 500 acres," said kenaf grower Bill Vasden, Jr.
It's a sea of green on a Felda farm that could become a field of dreams for the oil spill in the gulf.
The fibrous kenaf stalk is comparable to bamboo or hemp, and has already proven valuable as an alternative form of fuel.
"Kenaf is a biomass crop," Vasden explained. "You bundle it and burn it to create electricity and power."
Recent studies also showed the plant's promise in eating oil.
"It absorbs oil before it absorbs water," Vasden said. "If you spilled oil in your mechanical garage, you'd put kenaf super-absorbent down and it would absorb all the oil and no water."
Vasden joined other growers in Pensacola last week to present kenaf's potential to officials guiding the clean-up.
"Big kenaf boom, not only does it pick up more material and more surface area as tar balls roll in, it also floats much much longer."
So far, the response has been positive.
"They're ecstatic. 'Great, when can you deliver, how much is it going to be, let's deploy, let's deploy,'" Vasden said. "BP had representatives on the beach that were made aware of it and they seemed to be very much in favor of creating jobs and helping the south Florida economy at the same time we're solving problems for them and picking up a lot of oil."
Kenaf growers are hoping to pick up recommendations from some of the government agencies leading the response; that could then lead to deals with contractors to start deploying kenaf booms in the very near future.