Make us your home page

U.S. Sugar poised to sell land to state for $1.75B

The news hit South Florida on Monday like a Category 5 hurricane: U.S. Sugar Corp., the nation's largest sugar producer and the third-largest citrus company in Florida, may soon cease to exist.

One of the nation's largest privately held agricultural companies is expected to announce a deal today that it is selling 187,000 acres stretching from south of Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades — nearly all its holdings — to the state's South Florida Water Management District for $1.75-billion.

Neither state officials nor executives with U.S. Sugar, which produces about 10 percent of the sugar produced in America, would comment on the transaction Monday evening. U.S. Sugar, which has about 1,700 employees and produces about 700,000 tons of cane sugar each year, would reportedly lease the land back from the state for about five years while phasing out production. After that time the land would become available for the state to use in the Everglades restoration project.

The possibility that U.S. Sugar, which has epitomized Big Sugar for nearly eight decades, would simply evaporate left people in the sugar industry speechless.

Barbara Miedema is a spokeswoman for Florida's Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative, which represents 48 independent growers and is the third largest contributor to the state's cane crop, behind U.S. Sugar and Florida Crystals.

"We're reeling from the economic devastation it's going to mean for these communities, which have been built on agriculture for generations," she said of the impact of U.S. Sugar's decision to sell. "It's just unfathomable."

Marilyn McCorvey, deputy clerk in Clewiston, said if the town's biggest employer pulls up stakes, the loss will be unimaginable. The town got its start when Charles Stewart Mott, a Michigan industrialist, bought the bankrupt Southern Sugar Co. in 1931 and convinced investors cane could be grown profitably in the muck around Lake Okeechobee.

"There's disbelief," McCorvey said. "We just wonder what's going to happen."

Though the water district's deal with U.S. Sugar has reportedly been in the works for several months, no one could put a finger on why the granddaddy of Florida's sugar business felt the need or desire to sell.

Phillip W. Hayes, a spokesman for the American Sugar Alliance in Washington, D.C., said the recently passed farm bill was seen as a victory for the industry. "We expect it will create a little upward mobility to prices that have been down in the dumps lately," he said.

And, despite U.S. Sugar's battles with environmental groups, Miedema of the Florida's growers cooperative said sugar cane growers have been supportive of the comprehensive Everglades restoration plan.

"What's the benefit?" she asked. "It's not like the state is flush with money. This is counter to everything we've worked for the last decade."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story. Kris Hundley can be reached at or (727) 892-2996.

>>fast facts

United States Sugar Corp.

Headquarters: Clewiston

Founded: April 1931 by Charles Stewart Mott

What it does: Largest U.S. producer of cane sugar and refined cane sugar, third-largest citrus producer in Florida, owns short-line railroad, South Central Florida Express

Holdings: 187,858 acres in Hendry, Glades and Palm Beach counties

Employees: 1,700

U.S. Sugar poised to sell land to state for $1.75B 06/23/08 [Last modified: Monday, June 30, 2008 1:22pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Memorial Day sales not enough to draw shoppers to Tampa Bay malls


    TAMPA — Memorial Day sales at Tampa Bay area malls were not enough to compete with the beach and backyard barbecues this holiday weekend.

    Memorial Day sales weren't enough to draw shoppers to Tampa Bay area malls over the long weekend. 
  2. Austin software company acquires second Tampa business


    Austin, Tex.-based Asure Software acquired Tampa's Compass HRM Inc. late last week for $6 million. Compass focuses on HR and payroll.

    [Company photo]
  3. Hackers hide cyberattacks in social media posts


    SAN FRANCISCO — It took only one attempt for Russian hackers to make their way into the computer of a Pentagon official. But the attack didn't come through an email or a file buried within a seemingly innocuous document.

    Jay Kaplan and Mark Kuhr, former NSA employees and co-founders of Synack, a cybersecurity company, in their office in Palo Alto, Calif., in 2013. While last year's hacking of senior Democratic Party officials raised awareness of the damage caused if just a handful of employees click on the wrong emails, few people realize that a message on Twitter or Facebook could give an attacker similar access to their system. 
[New York Times file photo]
  4. Big rents and changing tastes drive dives off St. Pete's 600 block

    Music & Concerts

    ST. PETERSBURG — Kendra Marolf was behind the lobby bar of the State Theatre, pouring vodka sodas for a weeknight crowd packed tight for Bishop Briggs, the latest alternative artist to sell out her club.

    Sam Picciano, 25, left, of Tampa and Molly Cord 24, Palm Harbor shop for record albums for a friend at Daddy Kool Records located on the 600 block of Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, Florida on Saturday, May 20, 2017. OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times
  5. How Hollywood is giving its biggest stars digital facelifts


    LOS ANGELES — Johnny Depp is 53 years old but he doesn't look a day over 26 in the new "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie — at least for a few moments. There was no plastic surgeon involved, heavy makeup or archival footage used to take the actor back to his boyish "Cry Baby" face, however. It's all …

    This combination of photos released by Disney, shows the character Jack Sparrow at two stages of his life in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales."  Johnny Depp, who portrays the character, is the latest mega-star to get the drastic de-aging treatment on screen
[Disney via Associated Press]