February 8, 2008
As you may recall, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation oversees farm labor in Florida. Our team is responsible for ensuring compliance with farm labor laws, rules and standards, thereby enhancing and promoting the welfare of Floridas agriculture and farm workers.
Last week to learn more about our regulation of farm labor and about Floridas sugar industry, I traveled to Clewiston to visit U.S. Sugar Corporation. U.S. Sugar manages over 187,000 acres of south Florida farmland, grows sugarcane and oranges, and is the largest farming operation east of the Mississippi River.
U.S. Sugar employs 1,700 workers, many of whom are actively engaged in helping harvest the sugarcane and oranges. Robert Coker, Senior Vice President, and Judy Sanchez, Director of Corporate Communications, took me out to the fields to watch some of their team do a controlled burn of the sugarcane in preparation for harvest. We then watched the mechanical harvesters harvest row after row of the sugarcane by cutting the stalks into smaller, foot-long portions.
Once the cane was harvested, it was loaded onto the railcars on the tracks surrounding the properties. The trains carried the stalks to the sugar mill where we watched the process from the milling tandem to the ultimate separation of the sugar crystals from the molasses that surrounds them. Then we visited the refinery where the sugar is further processed and prepared for shipping to customers.
Over the past three years, U.S. Sugar has made major capital investments in its facility. The sugar refinery built during this period is the newest sugar cane refinery in the U.S. and is the first fully integrated cane sugar refinery in the country. Because the price of sugar is regulated by the federal government and has remained constant since 1985, the company must identify every efficiency in order to ensure a profit. The new facilities have dramatically improved the process, and automation has allowed the company to save significant money.
In addition, the new facilities were also designed to be environmentally friendly. U.S. Sugar has been involved in environmental issues and has adopted on-farm soil and water management techniques that have led to an average 50% reduction in phosphorous. They also power their mill and refinery on bagasse, which is the residual cane fiber from the milling process, and that process makes them energy self-sufficient.
The whole operation was very impressive, and it was clear that U.S. Sugar sets very high standards for the safety of its farm workers. Having said that, accidents happen, and I would be remiss not to acknowledge a devastating event that occurred to our neighbors further north. Thursday night a sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Georgia, exploded, and many people were injured. Our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families.
Department of Business and
1940 North Monroe Street
Tallahassee, Florida 32399
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