Florida farmers increasingly a positive part of cleaning water statewide (Opinion)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – There is a saying: “If you take care of the land, it will take care of you.” These are the words by which Florida’s farmers live.

Florida farmers, growers and ranchers are stewards of the land, and they play an integral role in the protection, restoration and conservation of our state’s precious natural resources.

Farmers utilize Agricultural Best Management Practices, or BMPs, that were developed by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumers Services with the University of Florida and approved by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to restore and improve the quality of our water, while maintaining the unique ecosystems we have in the Sunshine State.


U.S. Sugar Announces Promotion of Eric Edwards to Senior Vice President, Public Affairs

Clewiston, FL – U.S. Sugar announced today that Clewiston native Eric Edwards, current Vice President, State Governmental Affairs, has been promoted to Senior Vice President, Public Affairs.  This promotion is effective immediately.

“Each year with U.S. Sugar, Edwards has taken on increasingly greater roles and responsibility, and he has proven to be a strong and effective leader — both within our company and the industry,” said Ken McDuffie, President and CEO. “We are extremely proud that one of Clewiston’s own will continue our long-term efforts to advocate for agriculture and our agricultural communities in Tallahassee and Washington DC.”

Edwards will lead all of the company’s governmental affairs efforts, incorporating all public affairs responsibilities in Florida and Washington DC. Additionally, as part of his promotion, Edwards was recently recognized by U.S. Sugar’s Board of Directors as a senior leader in corporate management and business strategy.  He first started with U.S. Sugar in 2016.

Throughout his time at U.S. Sugar, Edwards has taken an active role in further establishing U.S. Sugar’s role in the public affairs arena as an industry leader in agriculture as well as land, water and air stewardship. He serves as an active member of the Florida Agriculture Coalition, Florida Land Council, and is an active member of many other statewide and regional business and agricultural organizations.  Edwards is a Lifetime Member of Leadership Florida and graduate of the Leadership Florida Connect Class 9.  In 2021, INFLUENCE Magazine named Edwards as the “Florida Agriculture Lobbyist of the Year”

Edwards, a seventh generation Floridian, resides in Tallahassee, Florida with his wife Jennifer and their two young children. Edwards is an avid outdoorsman, enjoys golf, and in his personal time, he and his wife spend their time finding ways to support their church and their children’s school in Tallahassee.  He is a graduate of Florida State University.  Prior to joining U.S. Sugar, he served as Chief Legislative Aide to Florida Senate President Don Gaetz.

Kenneth W. McDuffie Takes the Helm as President & CEO of U.S. Sugar

Clewiston, FL – U.S. Sugar today announced its Executive Vice President Kenneth W. McDuffie has assumed the role of President and Chief Executive Officer, succeeding Robert H. Buker, Jr. McDuffie has more than 30 years of experience in agriculture leadership roles involving agricultural operations, precision agriculture technology, research, business strategy and finance.

President & CEO Kenneth W. McDuffie
President & CEO Kenneth W. McDuffie

“Given Ken’s decades of experience leading efforts to modernize U.S. Sugar’s farming and technological infrastructure, there is no better choice to lead our growing company into the future,” said Ridgway White, Chairman of the U.S. Sugar Board of Directors. “Under Ken’s leadership, U.S. Sugar’s agricultural operations department has become one of the most efficient, sustainable and productive departments at any agricultural company in the world. Our Company is incredibly fortunate to have him at the helm.”

“I am humbled to have the opportunity to lead U.S. Sugar at such an exciting time, when we are harnessing more technology to grow food more sustainably than ever before,” said McDuffie. “I look forward to building on the successes we have achieved under Bob Buker’s leadership and continuing to ensure U.S. Sugar remains a market leader in safely and efficiently producing sugar, sweet corn, green beans and other food crops for American families.”

McDuffie, a Clewiston native, most recently served as U.S. Sugar’s Executive Vice President, a position he has held since 2021. In this role, McDuffie assisted the former President & CEO in all strategic and political matters as well as oversight of U.S. Sugar’s agricultural operations, including citrus agriculture and research, railroad operations, Rouge River Farms (locally-grown vegetables) and industry/grower relations.

From 2005 until 2021, McDuffie served as the Senior Vice President of Agricultural Operations. McDuffie first joined U.S. Sugar in 1992 and has held several positions with the Company, first starting out as a farm assistant. As part of his tenure, McDuffie led efforts to modernize U.S. Sugar’s agricultural operations and develop one of the most technologically advanced and productive harvesting fleets in the nation. He holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Florida State University.

McDuffie and his wife Melissa (Dusty) have two sons, Nick and Samuel, who are currently enrolled in college. His third son Landon and daughter-in-law London live in Stuart with grandson Preston.

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U.S. Sugar CEO Robert H. Buker, Jr. Honored With Prestigious “Sugar Man of the Year” Award

Clewiston, FL – U.S. Sugar today announced that its CEO, Robert H. Buker, Jr., has been selected as the 2023 recipient of the national Dyer Memorial Award, “Sugar Man of the Year.” 

“Our country, our state and our local communities have all been enriched by Bob’s tireless commitment to defending American agriculture,” said U.S. Sugar Executive Vice President Ken McDuffie. “Over his 41 years of service for and with U.S. Sugar, Bob has established himself as a pillar of the American sugar industry and is so richly deserving of this prestigious award.”

This esteemed industry accolade highlights Buker’s outstanding achievements and long-standing leadership in the sugar industry. He stood out amongst a highly competitive field of nominees based on his tireless efforts to advance and protect the entire American sugar industry as well as his keen vision for the Company’s growth and diversification.  Those accomplishments have been well documented in both the media and in corporate reports over a career in agriculture that has spanned more than 41 years with U.S. Sugar (and five years previously as outside counsel).

With his 19 years at the helm, Buker is the longest-tenured CEO in Company’s history, and his accomplishments are unparalleled. Throughout his career, he led the robust expansion and modernization of U.S. Sugar through complete vertical integration, diversification into vegetables and geographic reach beyond Florida to other states and into Canada. All the while, he advocated vigorously for sugarcane and sugar beet farmers on the national stage and fended off unrelenting attacks on the industry from well-funded activists/extremists.

Buker also has played a pivotal role in shaping U.S. Sugar into the strong, sustainable, and resilient company it is today. In 2022, he guided the Company through its purchase of Imperial Sugar, the largest acquisition in the Company’s history. With an emphasis on safety, technology, expansion, environmental sustainability, and community service, he leaves the 92-year-old U.S. Sugar well positioned for its next century. 

Buker earned a degree in psychology from Wheaton College in Illinois and graduated with highest honors from the University of Florida School of Law. From 1973 to 1979, Buker served as an officer in the United States Army. He and his wife Barbara live in rural Glades County. 

This latest honor recognizing a lifetime achievement comes upon the heels of the recent announcement that Buker plans to retire effective October 27, 2023. 

“At 73 years old and after 41 years of working with and for U.S. Sugar, I am proud to say that I am leaving the Company with confidence knowing it is stronger, more resilient, has far better leadership, and is in an overall better position than when I began,” said Buker. “I am proud that I served with a Board of Directors with great values and vision, and with an amazing group of employees.”

Robert. H. Buker, Jr. is the latest recipient of the Dyer Memorial Award, which is named after B.W. Dyer, a 121-year-old brokerage company that specializes in sweeteners and other foods.  The award was established 1958 in memory of the company’s founder, B. Wheeler Dyer by his two sons, Daniel and Ben. Each year a panel of three distinguished judges selects a person who has made meritorious contribution to the U.S. sugar industry to receive this widely acclaimed honor.

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What industry/community leaders are saying:

Ridgway White, U.S. Sugar Chairman of the Board:  “Under Bob’s leadership, U.S. Sugar further solidified and expanded its position as a premier agricultural company.  He provided that same visionary and strategic leadership as American sugarcane and sugar beet farmers dealt with devastating global trade issues,  catastrophic weather events, changing politics and volatile market prices.  He is deserving of this honor.”  

Alan and Ardis Hammock, Frierson Farms:  “From our rural areas to Florida’s capital in Tallahassee to the nation’s capital in Washington D.C, Bob Buker has led our sugar industry to great things.  He always understood and stood up for the interests of small, independent sugarcane and sugar beet farmers like our 100+ year- old family Frierson Farms.  Whether it is standing up against activists in Florida or sugar users in DC or fake news in the media, Bob has been our champion and taken up the banner for American farmers.  Bob Buker has the strategic planning and leadership skills similar to the military greats throughout history, and our industry has benefited from these leadership skills.”

Tom Astrup, Chairman & CEO, United Sugar Producers & Refiners:  Through our one-of-a-kind beet and cane sugar marketing partnership, I have come to know Bob as a brilliant business strategist, fearless and compassionate leader, trusted business partner, friend, and confidant. I can think of no person who has had a greater positive impact on sugar production in the United States over the last 25+ years, than Bob Buker.” 

Pastor Rex Durham, Providence Church, Lehigh Acres, FL, “What I have found is that Bob Buker, by the grace of God, is a man of integrity, generosity, humility and loyalty. Those are qualities I believe the sugar industry needs to celebrate with this award, especially in a time when those qualities are becoming more and more rare. Time after time I have been privy to his generosity, the act of being kind by giving to others, as he has given in times of need to those who were struggling to pay the bills or put food on the table for their family. Bob is humble. He never seeks recognition for these things nor would he want it.”

Clean Air in Our Communities: State of Florida Monitoring Data shows Glades Have Cleaner Air than Costal Areas

Clewiston, FL – After experiencing a delay to the start of harvest due to extremely wet field conditions, U.S. Sugar has begun the 2023-2024 harvesting season, while also releasing the latest monitoring data measured by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The data once again shows the Everglades Agricultural Area and surrounding farming communities have excellent air quality, even better than on the coast.

The data, taken over a 335-day period from October 2022 to August of 2023 show Glades air is in the best of six categories listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for 311 days – 93 percent of the time – and in the next-best the other 24 days. Additionally, a Princeton University-based study shows sugarcane crops contribute to cleaning carbon dioxide from the air.

“The Glades farming communities have excellent air quality throughout the year, whether measured during the harvest season, pre-harvest or post-harvest,” said Judy Sanchez, Senior Director of Corporate Communications at U.S. Sugar. “This has been true year after year, and it once again proves that anti-farming critics are simply wrong about the air in the Glades. “Professional-grade air quality monitors in every location also show that good, safe air quality is very consistent throughout the entire region, never falling anywhere near ‘unhealthy’ categories.”

Glades air quality meets all state and federal Clean Air Act standards for PM2.5, the amount of “fine particulates.” “Good” air has less than 12 particles per cubic meter.  The average for the Glades over the October—August time period covered in this update was 7.36 particles.  By comparison, Royal Palm Beach came in at 7.52 and Delray at 7.62.

Fine particulates in rural areas can come from car and truck exhaust, dust from dirt roads and asphalt dust, sand particles blown in from the Sahara Desert, smoke from all types of fires, fireworks, BBQs, emissions from lawn mowers and leaf blowers, soot, ash, mineral dust, pollen, mold spores, rubber tire dust, emissions from fume hoods and smokestacks, and construction dust, among others.

Excellent air quality is generally consistent throughout the region all year-round, but that was disrupted on October 3, when smoke from Canadian wildfires reached Central and South Florida. As a result, our local ”good” and safe air quality in the region moved into the “unhealthy” range. At 10:00 am in Belle Glade, the public air quality monitor showed an AQI reading of 161. “The air pollution readings in the Glades increased alarmingly as smoke from Canadian wildfires settled over our area,” Sanchez said.  “Air quality readings never came close to the ‘unhealthy’ range over the past year covered in this report before, during or after the Glades harvest season.”

On the battle against rising levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), the Carbon Mitigation Initiative at the High Meadows Environmental Institute at Princeton University reports that sugarcane has “turbocharged” efficiency to remove carbon dioxide from the air, calling sugarcane and corn “super-efficient workhorse crops.” Sugarcane and sweet corn are two of the major crops grown in the Glades farming region.

As we all live, work and raise our families together in these Glades farming communities, these numbers once again confirm what we see every day, that the air out here is “good, safe, and clean,” Sanchez said.

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U.S. Sugar Announces Retirement of Robert H. Buker, Jr. as CEO, Kenneth W. McDuffie as Successor

Clewiston, FL – U.S. Sugar today announced its longtime President & CEO, Robert. H. Buker, Jr., the longest tenured CEO in the Company’s 92-year history, has elected to retire effective October 27, 2023, and that upon Buker’s retirement, Executive Vice President Kenneth W. McDuffie will assume the role as his successor.

President & CEO, Robert. H. Buker, Jr.
President & CEO, Robert. H. Buker, Jr.

“On behalf of the U.S. Sugar Board of Directors, I want to sincerely thank Bob for his dedication to the Company as our President & CEO over the last 18 years,” said Board of Directors Chair Ridgway White.  “Under Bob’s leadership, U.S. Sugar further solidified and expanded its position as a premier agricultural company. Ken is a proven leader who will build on the foundation Bob has established to fulfill the vast potential this company and its employees hold.”

“At 73 years old and after 41 years of working with and for U.S. Sugar, I am proud to say that I am leaving the Company with confidence knowing it is stronger, more resilient, has far better leadership, and is in an overall better position than when I began,” said Buker. “I am proud that I served with a Board of Directors with great values and vision, and with an amazing group of employees.”

Buker continued, “In my time at U.S. Sugar, we weathered hurricanes, freezes, droughts, diseases and many other obstacles created by Mother Nature. We also confronted legal, political and constitutional challenges from activists, and emerged from them not only victorious, but also with our integrity intact. Time has proven that our decisions have been to the benefit of our shareholders, our employees and our communities.”

Upon announcing his retirement in a letter to employees, Buker reflected on the Company’s many accomplishments during his tenure. Buker noted, “We invested heavily in technology and innovation, created an information technology infrastructure that is second to none, and set the standard for excellence in our agricultural and manufacturing departments – led by the best management team in the business. We have enriched our communities through civic improvement, volunteerism and philanthropy. Most recently, we acquired a second refinery and have continued to grow our business in a sensible way. Because of these endeavors, I know our Company will continue to flourish.”

Executive Vice President Kenneth W. McDuffie
Executive Vice President Kenneth W. McDuffie

McDuffie is a Clewiston native and most recently served as U.S. Sugar’s Executive Vice President. He previously served as Senior Vice President of Agricultural Operations from 2005 to 2021, leading efforts to modernize U.S. Sugar’s agricultural operations and develop one of the most technologically advanced and productive harvesting fleets in the nation. McDuffie first joined U.S. Sugar in 1992. He holds a bachelor’s in economics from Florida State University.

“U.S. Sugar is a special company rooted in history and traditional farming values, and I am humbled by the opportunity to lead a great team of agribusiness professionals,” said McDuffie. “I look forward to building on the successes accomplished under Bob’s leadership and leading the company into the future.”

McDuffie and his wife Melissa (Dusty) have two sons, Nick and Samuel, who are currently enrolled in college. His third son Landon and daughter-in-law London live in Stuart with grandson Preston.

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EAA farmers continue to reduce phosphorus in runoff

Farmers in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), south of Lake Okeechobee, are once again recognized as successful partners with the State of Florida in providing clean water for Everglades restoration. 

At their Aug. 17 meeting of the the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD)  it was announced that EAA farmers achieved water-quality goals for the Everglades with a 63% phosphorus reduction in Water Year 2023, more than double the 25% reduction goal in the Everglades Forever Act. 

“EAA farmers are proud to be partners in preserving and restoring the River of Grass by sending clean water to the Everglades through our innovative Best Management Practices program,” said Keith Wedgworth of Wedgworth Farms. “Year after year, we strive to go above and beyond to take great care of our water and soil so that we can continue to stock America’s grocery stores and dinner tables with fresh, wholesome food for generations to come.”


Statement from U.S. Sugar Regarding the Death of Joe Collins, Senior Vice President of Lykes Ranch

 “The entire U.S. Sugar family is deeply saddened by the loss of Joe Collins, who had a significant impact on Florida Agriculture. Joe was a personal friend and a business partner for decades. He was someone who truly exemplified the Lykes’ legacy of land stewardship and traditional family values. We will miss him greatly and never forget the contributions he made to our industry and broader community at large.”

 – Ken McDuffie, Executive Vice President of U.S. Sugar

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Clean Air Update: Government, Private Data Shows Glades Air Quality Remains Among Best in State

Clewiston, FL – The people of U.S. Sugar again are making the latest “Clean Air” update available to their community–showing public and private data from 2021 to 2022 confirming that the Glades’ air quality remains good year-round and better than in congested coastal areas. “Our farmers are committed to clean air and clean water while growing food crops millions of American families depend on every year,” said Judy Sanchez, Senior Director of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs for U.S. Sugar. “Our latest air update shows our community that not only is our air safe and clean every day, but it also remains cleaner than other areas of the state of Florida.”

In the midst of its 92nd harvest season, U.S. Sugar is committed to providing its neighbors and friends science and fact-based information about its farming operations. Our region is one of the most heavily monitored areas with a number of public and private monitoring sources showing the Glades farming communities enjoyed air quality in the “Good” range – the range with the best air quality according to EPA standards – in 306 out of the 324 days of monitoring in the Glades (days covered in this report). Of the 18 days in the very low range of “Moderate” readings, 11 readings were taken between June and September, which is after the harvest season was completed.

Summary & Key Findings of “Clean Air Update”:
· Glades air is consistently good year-round

· Our air quality at 6.45 PM2.5 for the 2021-2022 harvest season was better than year round at 6.6 PM2.5

· Our air quality is the same or better than on the urban coast

· The class-action lawsuit pushed by outside special interests was dropped after they failed to provide any evidence to legitimately challenge the air monitoring data from our community

· During the 2021-2022 Harvest Season there was no significant uptick in visits to local emergency rooms (Source: www.floridatracking.com/healthtracking/)

· Saharan dust, particularly during the summer months, notably affects overall air quality throughout South Florida

This update is a continuation of our ongoing conversations with our neighbors about U.S. Sugar’s commitment to helping keep the farming communities where we work, play, and raise our families clean, safe, and healthy. U.S. Sugar is proud to reaffirm that commitment in releasing the information included in this report.

For more information and to read this and last year’s report, please visit: ussugar.com/2023-state-of-our-air/.

U.S. Sugar is a farming company that grows sugarcane, citrus, sweet corn and other winter and spring vegetables in South Florida. The company was founded in 1931 by Charles Stewart Mott, a visionary leader who hailed from a long line of farmers. Since the beginning, the company’s success has been rooted in traditional farming values and respect for the land.

Joe Marlin Hilliard (1943-2022)

Headshot of Joe Marlin Hilliard
Joe Marlin Hilliard

Pioneer rancher, businessman, and South Florida agricultural icon Joe Marlin Hilliard, 79, passed away surrounded by family and friends on August 26, 2022 in Naples, Florida. He was born in Ft Myers, Florida at Lee Memorial Hospital on January 18, 1943 to Joe Alexander Hilliard and Wilmuth Gabriele “Tippy” Yarbrough.

Born into a distinguished ranching family, Joe Marlin grew up on the famed Hilliard Ranch in Hendry County. Following graduation from Clewiston High School in 1961, he began his career working on Hilliard Brothers Cattle Ranch, which was founded by his grandfather in 1906 and later owned by his father and uncle in the 1920s. As he took over management, Joe Marlin would greatly expand upon the family business, enhancing the cattle operation with large investments in sugarcane, citrus, and vegetable production.

Joe Marlin Hilliard’s leadership skills over the years provided major advances for South Florida’s cattle, citrus and sugarcane industries. In 2017, Joe Marlin Hilliard was inducted into the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame—recognizing his life-long achievements and enduring efforts to secure the success of the farming and ranching industries that he loved.

His successful farming legacy will continue to build on its great heritage as Hilliard Brothers of Florida remains a family operation with Joe Marlin Hilliard’s two sons’ Joe Marlin II, Bryan, and his daughter Mary Elizabeth; all directly involved in different aspects of the business.

Along with his loving wife Barbara Jean, whom he married in 1985, Joe Marlin Hilliard was also an active member of the local community and his generous philanthropic efforts provided funding to numerous local and state organizations. A strong believer in education, he has funded the Joe Marlin Hilliard Endowed Scholarship at the King Ranch Institute of Ranch Management at Texas A&M, Kingsville and the Joe Marlin and Barbara Hilliard Scholarship at Florida Gulf Coast University and many others.
More importantly, he was a devoted Christian and family man who greatly valued family and friends. An avid outdoorsman throughout his life, Joe Marlin Hilliard graciously shared his love of hunting and fishing with friends and colleagues, extending invitations to join him on these adventures.

Joe Marlin lived on the Hilliard Ranch outside Clewiston for most of his life and raised his family there. He also had a retirement home in Naples, Florida. He was predeceased by parents Joe A. and “Tippy” Hilliard. Joe Marlin Hilliard is survived by his beloved wife of 37 years, Barbara, his children, Joe Marlin Hilliard, II (Chelsa), Mary E Hilliard Carroll, and Bryan Reed Hilliard, stepson Richard Parker and stepdaughter Alicia Snyder, and grandchildren Rana Hilliard, Joe A. “Jack” Hilliard, II, Madeline Carroll, Lily Carroll, Isabelle Hilliard, Bryan Reed Hilliard II, Isla Hilliard and Jessica Snyder.

Visitation will be held at Hodges Funeral Home in Naples on September 2, beginning at 1 pm. Services will directly follow. Internment will take place after the service at Hodges Funeral Home at Naples Memorial Gardens.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Shriners Hospitals for Children