Florida's Sugar Industry
One of nature's most environmentally-sound
crops sugarcane is grown on approximately
400,000 acres of rich farmland along the
southern shore of Lake Okeechobee in Palm
Beach, Hendry, Glades and Martin counties.
Florida, the largest United States producer of
raw sugar, provides one in every five teaspoons of
sugar consumed in the United States, and this
Everglades agricultural industry generates 30,000
jobs with an economic impact that exceeds $1.5
Approximately 135 farmers and seven
processing facilities comprise this significant
agricultural enterprise. These growers and
processors are represented by a non-profit
organization, called the Florida Sugar Cane
League. Environmental protection, agricultural
research and development, community relations,
information dissemination, and governmental
affairs are among the League's major functions.
Florida's sugar-growing history has its roots at
Cape Canaveral. The Spanish word for cane
field is cafiaveral, and remnants of the stalks'
ancient cultivation, no doubt, lie beneath the
cape's launching pads.
The art of making sugar from sugarcane
through a crystallization process was introduced
by the Moors who invaded Spain in the llth
Century. Later, Christopher Columbus brought
sugarcane to the West Indies on his second voy-
age to the New World.
The first commercial production of sugar in
Florida began in 1767 at the New Smyrna Col-
ony north of the Cape. During the Revolution-
ary War, however, this venture ended and in
1777 the colony was disbanded and the settle-
ment fell into ruins.
Efforts were made in the 1800's to establish
commercial production in Central Florida, but
the climate and soil were unsuitable for sugar-
cane's tropical nature. Ruins of mills dating
back more than 200 years can still be seen in
De Leon Springs, Port Orange, Homosassa
Springs and New Smyrna.
Present-day operations began in the late
1920's when Southern Sugar Company first
grew sugarcane in the Clewiston area before
going into receivership in 1929. U.S. Sugar Cor-
poration purchased that company and ground
its first crop in 1931 at its present Clewiston
mill. The mill at Okeelanta followed next, pro-
ducing its first crop of sugar in 1947, and the
remaining present-day mills began operation in
the early 1960s.
Today, sugarcane in the U.S. is successfully
grown in four states, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana
and Texas, producing over three million tons
of raw cane sugar yearly.
An Illustrfius History
r'LA N T G
For A Bountiful Crop
The planting of sugarcane, a tropical plant in
the grass family, begins in late August and con-
tinues through February. A stalk of sugarcane is
cut into pieces for planting and between each
section or internode is a joint where buds
sprout. From each bud, a new plant can be
produced. Stalks of sugarcane selected specifi-
cally for planting are dropped horizontally into
furrows and covered with the rich muck soil.
This is the beginning of the following year's crop
which takes 12-15 months to mature to peak su-
The Everglades Agricultural Area boasts rich
organic soil. Nitrogen fertilization is not re-
quired and only small amounts of phosphorus
are used in sugarcane production. Soil and plant
leaf analyses indicate the amount of nutrients
needed for successful production, and the use
of laser technology to level fields improves grow-
ing conditions and water management.
After the sugarcane matures and is harvested,
the plant sprouts or ratoons successive crops. De-
pending on the variety of sugarcane planted and
climatic conditions, each planting normally
produces 3 to 5 harvests.
Sugarcane is one of Mother Nature's most
productive crops utilizing Florida's abundant
sunshine, rainfall and rich soil.
The Everglades rich muck soil is analyzed before sugarcane is planted to
maximize crop production and minimize fertilization.
A Bend of Skill and Technology
Technological advances are being made in the development of mechanical harvesters used for cutting sugarcane.
T he harvesting of the sugarcane crop which
begins in mid-October incorporates a blend of
skilled manual labor and an impressive array of
machinery. At that time, the sugarcane has ma-
tured to a point that the sucrose is at an accept-
able level for processing and will continue to
mature throughout the season, weather condi-
tions permitting. Most of the crop is harvested
by hand; however, work continues today on the
technological development and improvement of
mechanical harvesting systems.
Whether cut by hand or mechanically, fields
are burned individually prior to harvesting. The
League works cooperatively with the Florida Di-
vision of Forestry to insure that proper condi-
tions are met in the pre-harvest burn program.
Although the burning of the fields appears
quite spectacular, it is highly controlled. The
fire moves quickly across a field and is usually
extinguished within 30-45 minutes.
After the field has cooled the sugarcane is har-
vested. Working in teams, cane cutters cut two
rows of sugarcane at a time. The men pile stalks
of sugarcane together to form a pilerow, and
the tops and excess leaves form a trash row.
Once a field of sugarcane is cut, the pilerows are
picked up by machines called continuous load-
ers which first cut the stalks into small pieces or
billets and then load them into field wagons.
From the wagons, sugarcane is dumped onto a
conveyor system and transferred into trucks or
railroad cars, and then delivered to the sugar
Cut sugarcane is moved from the field to trucks or
ra It a r- a trant, t r o fnl I. i -' .
MEN AIE~ MACC'flE,90
Uontnuous loaders pick up rows of cut sugarcane stalks, chop them into billets
and place them into field carts.
The Florida sugar industry employs more than
18,000 individuals with an annual payroll ex-
ceeding $225 million. Employees include both
South Florida residents and seasonal West In-
dies workers who reside locally for the four-to-
five-month harvest season.
Despite extensive recruitment efforts by the
industry and U.S. Department of Labor, not
enough American workers are able, willing or
available to harvest sugarcane. As a result, over
the last 40 years the industry has found it nec-
essary to hire workers from the West Indies to
hand cut sugarcane.
The Department of Labor requires the sugar
industry to substantiate the unavailability of U.S.
workers and to meet equitable terms and con-
ditions of employment prior to obtaining certi-
Adr Advanta!eous SoluMton
Cane cutters, who come mainly from the West Indies, use cane knives to hand
cut the tall stalks. They wear protective gear like these metal shin guards as
part of their safety equipment.
fiction for use of a legal immigration program
known as the H-2A Program. To assure wages
and working conditions of U.S. workers are not
adversely affected, employers pay a minimum
hourly wage substantially higher than the indus-
trial federal minimum wage. In addition, the H-
2A Program stipulates employers offer housing,
three hot meals per day, Workers' Compensa-
tion coverage and free roundtrip air transpor-
tation for these workers.
The federal H-2A Program has proven its
worth since its inception. Some of the benefits
include: 1) sugarcane cutters earn in excess of
$40 million annually which directly aids the
Caribbean nations' economies; 2) U.S. farm
workers' pay reflects the spin-off of high mini-
mum wages and other H-2A benefits; and 3)
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With skill, the cane cutter cuts and trims rows of sugarcane which are piled
neatly for pick up by continuous loaders.
Although modern technological advances are
being made in the mechanical harvesting of
sugarcane, hand harvesting remains the pre-
dominant method today. The H-2A Program is
extremely valuable to the sugarcane industry
and the English speaking leeward island nat-
ions of the Caribbean.
During the harvest season, cane cutters live in housing
provided by their employers.
After undergoing a clarifying process, the juice is transferred to a series of
evaporators and vacuum pans where it will first become syrup and then
A conveyor belt carries sugarcane to a set of revolving knives which
chop the cane into smaller pieces.
State-of-the-art computer technology allows the mills to operate at maximum
Stalk pieces are crushed by milling tandems so the sweet juice can be
Frequent examinations are made of the thick, syrup mixture to determine
exact crystalformation and color.
One of nature's sweetest juices is extracted
from the harvested sugarcane stalks and trans-
formed into sugar crystals. While the essence of
this milling process is centuries old, today's
technology allows greater efficiency in the recov-
ery of sugar. Each stalk is comprised of approxi-
mately 30 teaspoons of sugar, 6 teaspoons of mo-
lasses, 2 1/4 pints of water and 6 ounces of solid
At the mill, the stalks are carried via conveyor
belt to a set of revolving knives that chop them
into smaller pieces. They are crushed by a se-
ries of mills containing rolls, known as milling
tandems, and the sugarcane juice is extracted.
Small amounts of lime are added to the juice
to aid in the clarification process. It's heated
and pumped into tanks containing settling trays
called clarifiers. The fibrous residue of the stalk,
called bagasse, is used as a source of fuel to
power the sugar mills making them virtually self
GLADES N OCEAN
COUNTY W + E MARTIN COUNTY
UNITED STATES SUGAR CORPORATION
LAKE (BRYANT MILL)
OSCEOLA FARMS COMPANY
SUGAR CANE GROWERS COOPERATIVE
UNITED STATES SUGAR CORPORATION OF FLORIDA
(CLEWISTON MILL) ATLANTIC SUGAR ASSOCIATION
HENRY OKEELANTA CORPORATION
COUNTY PALM BEACH COUNTY
TALISMAN SUGAR CORPORATION
FLORIDA SUGAR CANE PRODUCING AREA AND MILL LOCATIONS
sufficient. (Bagasse is also the raw material for
the production of a chemical product known as
As the name suggests, clarifiers separate
impurities from the raw juice, transforming it
into clearjuice. The juice is transferred to a se-
ries of evaporators where most of the water is
then removed. The remaining syrup is then
boiled in vacuum pans where it becomes sugar
crystals and molasses called massecuite. Masse-
cuite is cooled and the crystals continue to grow
in the crystalizers. Finally, high-speed centrifu-
gals spin off the molasses while retaining the
The two final products-pure, raw sugar and
blackstrap molasses-are now ready for market-
ing. Raw sugar is either stored temporarily in
huge warehouses or taken directly to refineries,
where it becomes the familiar sugar that makes
foods taste better.
Before shipment to refineries, raw sugar is
temporarily stored in huge warehouses near the mills.
An Oflc'DsM Macha-1-i~jzad
Atlantic Sugar Association
The Atlantic Sugar mill is located 15
miles east of Belle Glade and 4 miles south
of U.S. 441. Atlantic Sugar Association is
an agricultural cooperative consisting of
10 grower members, who produced their
first crop in 1964. Atlantic's grinding
capacity is 12,000 tons of sugarcane per
The Okeelanta sugar factory, located
about 6 miles south of South Bay, was the
second mill to begin production in the
Glades with its first crop dating back to
1947. Presently, Okeelanta's grinding ca-
pacity is in excess of 21,000 tons of sugar-
cane per day. Unique to the industry is
Okeelanta's attached Florida Crystals refin-
ery which produces in excess of 80,000
tons of refined sugar for final consump-
Osceola Farms Company
The Osceola sugar factory, located on
U.S. Highway 98, 7 miles east of Canal
Point produced its first crop in 1961. The
original mill was brought in pieces to its
present location from the Vermilion Sugar
Factory in Louisiana to offset the loss of
sugar production from Cuba. This started
the further development of Florida's in-
dustry. The factory's rated grinding capac-
ity is in excess of 12,000 tons of sugarcane
Floida Sgar Cans Legue
Sugar Cane Growers
Cooperative of Florida
Glades Sugar House, located just north-
east of Belle Glade off Airport Road, is the
Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Flor-
ida, owned by a group of 54 grower mem-
bers who processed their first crop in 1962-
63. Adjacent to the sugar mill is a facility
which produces furfural, a chemical deriva-
tive from sugarcane bagasse. The mill's
rated grinding capacity is 21,000 tons of
sugarcane per day.
United States Sugar Corporation Bryant
The Bryant Sugar House, located 3 miles
east of Pahokee, is the newest of U.S.
Sugar's two mills, milling its first crop in
1962. The mill is the largest single tandem
mill in Florida with a grinding capacity of
17,000 tons of sugarcane per day.
The Clewiston Sugar House is the oldest
sugar-producing mill in Florida, producing
its first crop in 1929. A familiar Clewiston
landmark, the mill has a present grinding
capacity in excess of 22,000 tons of sugar-
cane per day.
manufacturers and consumers.
After raw sugar leaves the mills, it's either
transported directly to a refinery or marketed
through the Florida Sugar Marketing and Ter-
minal Association which sells the majority of
Florida's sugar crop. The Association is located
at the Port of Palm Beach, and the mission of
the organization is to market its members' raw
sugar and operate a bulk raw sugar terminal. In
addition to selling directly to refineries located
in cities such as Baltimore, Galveston, New
Orleans, New York and Savannah, the market-
ing organization also sells raw sugar to major
international trading companies.
Tarp-covered tractor-trailer trucks enter the
Riviera Beach port delivering between 2,500
and 5,000 tons of sugar a day, as needed, from
the Glades sugar mills. Once at the port, the
trucks are weighed, and the sugar is dumped
into twin hoppers where it's then automatically
fed onto a conveyor belt and carried up toward
the ceiling of an A-framed warehouse capable
of holding 20,000 tons of sugar.
The sugar is recovered from the warehouse
by allowing it to drop through gates in the floor
onto underground conveyor belts that carry it
to the port's Berth #2. Using a rail-mounted,
self-propelled gantry and a centrifugal thrower
carry it to refineries where it is processed and packagedfor
or "trimmer," the sugar is uniformly loaded onto
a barge at the rate of approximately 650 tons
per hour. Typically, cargo sizes range from
11,000-18,000 tons and it takes a crew of four
men two working days to load each shipment.
Approximately one million tons of sugar are
shipped annually through the facility by the
Blackstrap molasses as a by-product of raw
sugar manufacturing is marketed through the
industry-owned Florida Molasses Exchange, Inc.
Half of the annual production of 500,000 tons
is shipped to mainland domestic customers by
highway semi-trailers and railroad tank cars. The
remainder is transferred to seven tanks at the
Port of Palm Beach where it is held at a 66,000-
ton tank farm. Tandem positive-displacement
pumps move the viscous product through 12-
inch pipeline to ocean-going tankers awaiting
export to Europe and Canada.
After these two valuable sugar products reach
the refineries and processors, they are just a few
steps from their ultimate destination-the con-
sumer. Wli.it begins as a tall, green grass in the
Florida Everglades Agricultural Area eventually
makes its way to dinner tables throughout the
Fraom Raw to Refined
Agicul tural Rs c l' A Stp Ahead
Rice (foreground) grown in rotation with sugarcane (background) helps conserve organic soil and improve water management. (Inset) These sugarcane "arrows"
represent new varieties which are bred for improved agronomic characteristics.
Agricultural research is an essential compo-
nent of the Florida sugarcane industry. Varietal
development, pest management and agronomic
practices contribute to efficient crop production
and minimize the use of pesticides and fertiliz-
ers by sugarcane farmers.
Breeding programs produce disease-resistant,
pest-tolerant, agronomically desirable, sweet,
new sugarcane clones. These continuing sugar-
cane variety development programs are a coop- Rust, a readily-spotted leaf disease, reduces sugarcane's photosynthetic
erative effort of the U.S. Department of Agricul- ability and yield. A resistant variety (left) is compared with a susceptible
ture, the University of Florida and the Florida
Sugar Cane League.
Scouting programs evaluate pest populations,
such as insects, diseases, rodents and weeds, and
better utilize natural pest control methods. Only
through this close monitoring can infestation
levels of the pests and their natural enemies -
parasites and predators be determined. Fre-
quently, field scouting results show these infes-
tations to be below economically damaging
thresholds, and insecticides are neither needed Sugarcane stalk damage and subsequent disease infection caused by the
nor applied. sugarcane borer lowers sucrose content.
Research in the water and soil management
area is another vital part of sugarcane cultiva-
tion. To conserve the muck soil resource, grow-
ers use fallow field flooding, which also provides
disease and insect control, and to further en-
hance water management, they plant rotational
crops like rice. Land leveling with laser technol-
ogy also aids water conservation efforts, and soil
testing improves crop performance.
Florida sugarcane growers depend on scien-
tific research. They realize a better understand- Numerous parasites killed the sugarcane borer (left) and emerged to pupate
ing of nature's ecological systems will keep them (right). Natural predators and parasites like these attack insect pests and
a step ahead in safeguarding the environment. reduce pesticide use.
Florida sugarcane farmers strive for a harmo-
nious partnership with nature and recognize the
value of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA)
which is characterized by excellent growing con-
ditions for sugarcane.
The 710,000 acres of Everglades organic soils,
now called the EAA, was established by Congress
as an agricultural area in 1948. This act pro-
vided the basic flood protection and water
control that was essential to the development of
an economically-important farming industry.
Due to the nutrient-rich muck soil and abun-
dant rainfall found here, the EAA provides a
natural setting for growing sugarcane on thou-
sands of acres that would otherwise lie unpro-
Flood protection and water resources for the
state's lower east coast and Lake Okeechobee
communities were significant results of this
water management project. The agricultural
benefits associated with the plan justified the
cost of developing the extensive canal system
and massive Herbert Hoover levy surrounding
Lake Okeechobee, as well as setting aside more
than 1.5 million acres for water conservation,
flood control, wildlife and recreation.
The Florida Sugar Cane League's Environ-
A P&imsl-Ap Naare
One of the industry's nineteen air monitoring stations tests ambient air
mental Quality Committee utilizes both in-
house and independent scientific findings to
help preserve and protect the natural resources
of the EAA and Lake Okeechobee. As a result,
the sugar industry is one of the first in Florida
to receive approval for a comprehensive,
groundwater monitoring plan. Wastewater from
each mill is discharged to industrial wastewater
treatment ponds, where groundwater sampling
takes place three times each season. The results
are submitted to the Department of Environ-
mental Regulation to assure the protection of
In addition, the League operates one of the
state's largest private air monitoring networks.
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sI etlli( ite s lilll' l-I t t'le cli'l ,kinall lI:' .liCe IIect.
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vapor and cleaned flue gas to escape from the
Florida's sugarcane production depends on
the unique growing conditions of the EAA and
sugarcane growers will continue supporting an
environmental quality program to protect the
natural resources and lead the way to an envi-
Frequent water sampling helps the sugar industry
assure environmental quality.
Sweet, Pre, and 'latural
Sugar is one of nature's good foods. It's pleas-
ing to our tastebuds, and because it's sweet,
pure and natural, sugar is a completely safe and
When added to other foods, sugar makes
those foods more palatable, encouraging a bal-
anced intake of other nutrients by making a
variety of necessary foods taste better. It also
serves as a natural preservative and browning
These qualities have earned sugar its rightful
place as the gold standard of sweeteners.
Though sugar is almost never eaten alone, it is
an essential ingredient in many different reci-
pes, and tests prove it is a 100 percent utilizable
Despite sugar's wholesome goodness, pseudo-
scientific myths and misconceptions have re-
sulted in unsubstantiated charges that sugar is
somehow a dietary villain. To answer consumer
queries, a Food and Drug Administration task
force issued a 200-page study in 1986 giving
sugar a clean bill of health.
Dietary fat, the report stated, not sugar, is the
real culprit in weight gain, and according to the
task force, no scientific evidence links sugar
consumption with diabetes, hyperactivity,
hypoglycemia or coronary artery disease. Sugar,
as well as all fermentable carbohydrates, can
contribute to dental cavities, the report said, but
water fluoridation and good oral hygiene are
the best ways to prevent tooth decay.
Most importantly, the report concluded sugar
With only 16 calories per teaspoon, sugar
keeps the metabolic rate up, making it more
likely to be expended than stored.
Sugar is one of our most versatile foods, and
best of all, real sugar needs no warning label.
It's sweet, it's pure, and it's natural.
Florida Sugar Cane League, Inc.
A trade association of sugarcane growers and processors.
P.O. Drawer 121,1
Cl'wiston, Florida 33-i-tl