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A group of farmers in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, is exploring ways to market biodiesel fuel made from sunflower seeds, which many consumers are shunning over radiation fears.

The Minamisoma Council on Farming Revitalization recently produced its first batch of the fuel, a hopeful first step toward making sunflower seeds profitable and reviving local farming.

Some farmers in Kashima Ward, where many have yet to replant rice, opted to plant sunflowers in a 100-hectare patch in 2012, thinking to sell them for ornamental purposes. The farmers know they can grow rice again in the future, but what’s worrying them is their current crop of wheat and soybeans, which may not sell well due to radiation fears.

So the council, which formed last year, thought of growing sunflowers for biodiesel fuel, too. They bought seeds and equipment with financial help from the Kirin Kizuna Project run by beverage giant Kirin.

The first batch of seeds was planted on a 21-hectare tract in May, but heavy rain and pests such as birds cut the yield to what might be expected from a 4- or 5-hectare patch.

After drying the seeds, the group sent them to a processing plant in Osaki, Miyazaki Prefecture, that made 2,000 liters of biodiesel. The fuel is classified as B5, meaning it contains 5 percent vegetable oil.

On April 22, the product was delivered to Kazunobu Nishi, the group’s chairman, and poured into oil drums for distribution to the members to try in tractors and other machines.

“Farmers here are strongly worried our crop may not sell well,” Nishi said. “We must continue studying this as a potential alternative for a farming area such as ours.”

This section, appearing every third Monday, focuses on topics and issues covered by the Fukushima Minpo, the largest newspaper in Fukushima Prefecture. The original article was published on April 24.

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