A group of cereal farmers who began cultivating rapeseed two years ago to produce biodiesel fuel in a bid to boost their dwindling incomes, intend to increase 100-fold existing cultivations in the region of Elassona, central Greece, by this fall, it was revealed yesterday. The Cooperative of Energy Crops Producers, which now comprises more than 200 farmers, aims to establish Greece’s first industrial biodiesel production plant by 2007 with the help of the Minnesota-based firm Lemna, the group’s president, Yiannis Tsoutsos, told Kathimerini. «In the second year of our pilot program we cultivated 15 hectares of rapeseed but in the fall we will get going on 1,500 hectares,» he said. Tsoutsos, who is also mayor of Potamia, where the rapeseed plants are located, decided to bring biodiesel production to Greece after touring countries with experience in the sector. According to him, rapeseed takes very well to Mediterranean soil, producing between 430 and 900 liters of biodiesel fuel per hectare. Biodiesel is a cleaner-burning diesel fuel made from natural, renewable sources such as vegetable oils. As for Greece’s first biodiesel processing plant, Tsoutsos said his cooperative, in conjunction with the Lemna group, had already applied for subsidies under Greece’s investment incentive law. «We aim to create a plant producing 10,000 tons of rapeseed per year,» he said. The group’s next goal is to start cultivating more energy crops, including cardoon. Tsoutsos is also hoping to improve sales of the Domenico cigar – another product of Elassona cultivations which he launched in 2004 following a visit to Cuba. «There is massive interest so we will not delay an export launch. We aim to export 80,000 cigars a year,» he said.