Ten Interesting Things About U.S. Sugar I Learned This Harvest Season

Ryan Duffy

Recently, the people of U.S. Sugar, our farmers and our 34 independent growers finished the Company’s 90th consecutive harvest. Every year I’m with the company, I am even more amazed at the new and interesting things I learn. This past year was no exception.  And I want to share my “on the job” learning experience through my time hosting tours, gathering content for our social media channels and interacting with my co-workers.

Here’s ten of the most interesting things I learned about U.S. Sugar:

  1. Our farmers are using technology similar to Uber to increase sustainability and efficiency in the sugarcane harvest. A few years ago, we began developing/implementing a technology using location-based beacon solutions to link tractors hauling wagons to cane harvesters waiting in the field. The technology has helped reduce the distance traveled and wait times, which decreases fuel use and increases overall harvest efficiency.
  1. It sometimes get extremely cold in South Florida, and that’s not a good thing for farming.  In late January, we experienced two consecutive nights of below-freezing temperatures in our farming region. The first night, it was windy enough to keep the frost/freeze from settling on much of the crop. Unfortunately, the wind died down the second night, and we experienced major negative impacts including widespread freeze-burned cane and damaged vegetables. Farms south of Lake Okeechobee generally enjoy favorable weather year-round, but the freeze this year was the worst in more than a decade.
Area Manager Rusty Hyslope surveys freeze damage to a field of green beans on the morning after one of the worst freezes in South Florida in over a decade.
  1. We hire many graduates from Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Georgia. I am an alumnus of Florida State University (Go Noles!) and I work with quite a few Gators, Hurricanes, UCF Knights and FGCU Eagles, but ABAC in Tifton, GA is one of the schools that seems to produce the most U.S. Sugar employees. Many employees in our agriculture department are from ABAC, working in everything from production supervision, and harvest technology implementation to research & development. In May, we hosted faculty from ABAC and the tour was led entirely by our ABAC graduates and current interns.
Production Supervisor Jarad Plair (ABAC alum) and Communications Director Ryan Duffy discuss U.S. Sugar’s state-of-the-art harvesting technology with ABAC faculty members during May tour.
  1. Our internal railroad system keeps 2,000 tractor-trailers off the road every day. U.S. Sugar is unique in that we transport all of our sugarcane from our fields to the mill via private railroad–nonstop during the harvest season (from October to May). One railcar can haul up to 40,000 tons of sugarcane, or the equivalent of two tractor trailers. Fewer trucks on the road means less congestion in our communities and reduced fuel consumption and less greenhouse gas emissions.
  1. U.S. Sugar grows a whole lot more than sugarcane. This past year, U.S. Sugar and our family of farmers grew more than a dozen different types of fruit and vegetables. Our company grows green beans and sweet corn in rotation with sugarcane, and our 34 independent farmers grow many other food crops such as such as citrus, kale, radishes, romaine lettuce, rice, celery and many other crops. All of this produce is packaged locally in the Glades, shipped and sold in the produce sections of grocery stores throughout the Eastern Seaboard every winter and spring. We help feed up to 180 million Americans every year!
  1. Clean water is an important part of our business. The Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA for short), where many of our farms are located, is the only farming area in the United States with a requirement to reduce phosphorus by 25 percent annually. Our farmers along with other growers in the EAA have shattered that target by achieving a 55 percent annual average reduction over the past 26 years. It’s a major source of pride for our farmers, who are on the front lines of Everglades restoration in our state’s efforts to send cleaner water to the River of Grass.
  1. We host thousands of people on Raisin’ Cane tours of our farms every year. One of the best ways to teach people about agriculture is to get them out on our farms and show them what we do. This past year, we had approximately 6,000 people from coastal regions and our own communities come to our farming region to learn about our sustainable agricultural practices and the food we produce. If you are interested in booking a future tour, please contact the Clewiston Chamber of Commerce.
  1. U.S. Sugar is a family, and many family members work together. At both our factory and in our fields, U.S. Sugar employs many father-son or mother-daughter combinations. It’s not uncommon to hear about employees who have worked with their parents and even grandparents as generations of families choose to work for the Company. Every year, our CEO Robert H. Buker, Jr. recognizes employees for their decades of service, including some that have worked for the company for 30, 40, and even 50 years!
  1. U.S. Sugar has many superlatives when it comes to technology. Due to the size and scale of our farming operation, U.S. Sugar is home to the world’s largest private mesh Wi-Fi network (which spans 200 square miles across our farms) and one of the largest fleets of connected John Deere tractors and harvesters anywhere. We are also one of the largest producers of data in all of American agriculture, and one of the largest users of auto steer GPS guidance on farms anywhere in the world. Precision agriculture plays an integral role in our ability to safely and reliably produce food in a sustainable way.
  1. Bagasse has many uses outside of powering U.S. Sugar’s factory. We have highlighted the sustainability of bagasse – sugarcane fiber – in powering our factory and providing surplus power for up to 25,000 homes annually, but it is increasingly used in making every day household products more affordable and environmentally friendly. Sugarcane is playing an important role in the plant-based product movement. You can now purchase everything from straws, to sandals and even LEGOs sustainably made from sugarcane-based materials.

After getting some much-needed rest this summer, our employees will be back hard at work as we begin our 91st harvest starting in October. We will be happy to share more interesting facts and information about our farming and processing operations. Make sure you’re following U.S. Sugar on TwitterFacebook and Tik Tok.

Ryan Duffy

U.S. Sugar Christens Historic Steam Locomotive as 90th Harvest Season Begins

Clewiston, FL– Members of the Glades communities, local elected officials, pastors and the people of U.S. Sugar celebrated today the beginning of the company’s 90th harvest season at a dedication event for its historic steam locomotive Engine No. 148, which hauled the season’s first sugarcane train from field to mill.

“Our company has great respect for the hard, admirable work that brought this piece of history back to life,” said U.S. Sugar President and CEO Robert Buker. “We are proud to finally be able to show everyone this amazing artifact of American ingenuity, innovation and industrial know-how.”

The Sugar Express pulling into the dedication with our first cars of sugarcane to start our 90th harvest. 

Everyone safely gathered around the century old locomotive as it came to halt on the tracks before them and Mr. and Mrs. Buker smashed a champagne bottle of pure cane sugar over its coupler to christen the “Sugar Express” before sending the train on toward the mill. The Clewiston Tigers High School Marching Band was also on hand to play “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” as the steam locomotive was dedicated.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the event was not open to the public; however, the City of Clewiston invited local residents and rail fans to view the train from a secure, pre-determined location as it chugged through town.  The newly restored steam engine was also displayed for several hours at the U.S. Sugar Locomotive North Shop for individuals to take photographs and videos.

The steam engine was christened with a champagne bottle of sugar, broken by Barbara Buker, wife of U.S. Sugar president and CEO Robert Buker. 

“Ninety years ago, our founder, Charles Stewart Mott first laid out his vision for U.S. Sugar to become a leader in innovation,” said Ken McDuffie, Senior VP of Sugarcane Operations at U.S. Sugar. “Part of that innovation was developing the only large-scale rail network for trains to haul harvested cane to a sugar mill.”

“While most steam locomotives originally ran on coal, U.S. Sugar’s fleet used cleaner burning diesel fuel.  And because we’re always looking for innovation and sustainability, this steam engine has been designed to run on recycled vegetable oil,” said Buker.

U.S. Sugar plans to add passenger cars to Engine No. 148 in the future so visitors can see their farms and learn more about the company’s rich history and food production from a very unique perspective.  The Sugar Express also is expected to help draw more visitors to America’s Sweetest Town as they come to experience a ride on a genuine steam locomotive.

Pictured are students from the Clewiston High School honor guard, which presented the colors and opened the ceremony.

Since 2016, U.S. Sugar has been working to restore Engine Number 148, a vintage 1920s-era steam locomotive the company employed decades ago to haul sugarcane from the fields to its mill.  The steam locomotive, which the Florida East Coast Railway originally received delivery of in June 1920, ran throughout their system, including on the fabled Key West Extension.  The Florida East Coast Railway, the only rail system along the east coast of Florida, maintained the locomotive until 1952, when it was acquired by U.S. Sugar.  Engine No. 148 remained with the company until the 1970s, when it was sold to a tourist line in New Jersey and, over time, made its way to Colorado where it languished until being re-acquired by U.S. Sugar.

For more information about the steam engine, visit www.SugarExpress.com and follow its Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/SugarExpress.

About U.S. Sugar

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.

About Sugar Express

The mission of the Sugar Express is to provide a safe and educational means to learn about transportation history, agriculture, and the people of U.S. Sugar. It will use historic steam locomotive No. 148 to take visitors on trips through the lush crop lands cultivated by the nearly 2,500 hardworking employees of U.S. Sugar.

About FMW Solutions LLC

FMW Solutions LLC (FMW) was organized in 2016 to provide innovative solutions to clients in need of rail industry mechanical services. The three principals of FMW offer more than 50 years of experience in the field of railroad mechanical service, engineering design, and strategic planning, and FMW’s team of mechanics and technicians provide innovative solutions to the rail sector. This expertise spans a diverse body of work including Class I railroad diesel-electric locomotive repair, short line diesel-electric locomotive inspection and repair, total steam locomotive overhaul, and railroad mechanical equipment consulting.

U.S. Sugar Announces 90th Sugarcane Harvest Season and “State of Our Air” Report, Confirming Air Quality in Glades Communities is Safe and Clean

Clewiston, Fla. – Today, U.S. Sugar announced it will celebrate its 90th sugarcane harvest season, scheduled to start tomorrow.  In addition, the company released its “State of Our Air” Report to the community describing the safe and successful 2019/2020 sugarcane harvest season.  This inaugural report compiles air quality data from the region and confirms the Glades communities’ air is safe, healthy, and clean.

“The Glades communities have some of the best air quality in the state,” said Robert Buker, U.S. Sugar President and CEO. “The health, safety, and wellbeing of our community continues to be a foundational commitment in everything we do. We hope this report will be a helpful resource for the families in our community.”

The full report, available here, compiles and analyzes publicly available data from two Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) air monitoring stations in Palm Beach County (one located in Royal Palm Beach and one in Belle Glade) that collect fine particulate matter (otherwise known as PM2.5). The report shows the air quality in the Glades communities was consistently better than suburban and urban neighboring areas.

  • This year, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) announced the “cleanest air on record” and that Florida meets “all ambient air quality standards.”
  • The data show the air quality in the Glades community is categorized as “good,” which is the best air quality classification; the Glades communities’ averages fell well within the required air quality range set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).
  • The air in the Glades community is safer, cleaner, and of better quality compared to the West Palm Beach area; average levels of PM2.5 are consistently higher in the West Palm Beach area compared to the Glades communities (Figure 1); the EPA defines particles in the air as particulate matter (PM) and PM2.5 describes fine, inhalable particles, with diameters that are generally 2.5 micrometers and smaller.
  • The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s 2020 report continues to show that air quality in the Glades community is better than other areas of the state; particularly more densely populated, Northern communities.
  • Since the start of 2019-2020 Harvest Season, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has introduced two rounds of improvements to pre-harvest sugarcane burns; the most recent round included updated local zones based on community population growth and certification of all burn managers to ensure that sugarcane burning remains a safe, controlled procedure for our workers and our community.

“At U.S. Sugar, we go above and beyond what is required of us to protect our environment because we live here,” said Michael Ellis, U.S. Sugar’s Vice President of Strategic Environmental Affairs. “Our land, water, air, and natural resources are part of our legacy and promise for the future—something that we are all proud to be part of today.”

With the 2020/2021 harvest season set to begin – the 90th harvest season for U.S. Sugar – our commitment to sound environmental stewardship remains strong and our commitment to the community remains even stronger.

U.S. Sugar was founded in 1931 by Charles Stewart Mott, a visionary businessman, entrepreneur and philanthropist.  He combined his interest in agriculture with sound investments in people, science and technology—a strategy that continues to guide the business today.  The heart of the company has always been its family of farmers and its commitment to community. 

U.S. Sugar Steam Locomotive No. 148 Hauls Sugarcane Train to Mill Ending Harvest Season, New “Sugar Express” Launched

Clewiston, Fla. – For the first time in more than 50 years, a steam locomotive hauled a train of harvested sugarcane from the field to U.S. Sugar’s mill. To mark the end of U.S. Sugar’s annual harvest and the completion of a multi-year restoration of its 100-year-old steam locomotive known as Engine No. 148, the company called upon the vintage locomotive to haul cane on the last day of the season. The 2019-20 harvest lasted 239 days, and despite drier than normal spring conditions and the global COVID-19 pandemic, was completed safely as scheduled.

“Seeing No. 148 under steam and back on her home track is a heartwarming sight to see,’’ said Judy Sanchez, Senior Director of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs for U.S. Sugar.

Locomotive No. 148 was built in 1920 by the American Locomotive Company for use on the Florida East Coast Railway. In 1952, the locomotive was sold to U.S. Sugar to haul sugarcane trains from field-to-mill for processing raw sugar. As diesel locomotives became popular, Engine No. 148 was sold by U.S. Sugar into private ownership in the 1960s. The steam engine spent a few years hauling passenger excursions, then it was moved across the country, finally landing in Monte Vista, Colorado. Thanks to the vision of U.S. Sugar CEO Robert H. Buker, Jr., the locomotive was re-purchased by U.S. Sugar in 2016, kick starting this restoration. Railroad mechanical contractor FMW Solutions LLC, working alongside more than two dozen U.S. Sugar employees, completed the restoration of No. 148 in late April.

“U.S. Sugar’s restoration of Engine No. 148 has been a tremendous source of pride for our employees, who have worked tirelessly over the past 4 years to bring this steam engine back to life,” said Bob Lawson, general manager for U.S. Sugar Railroad Operations. “We look forward to the day when we can host members of the public on excursions to share our rich history with railroad enthusiasts, Florida residents and children alike.”

“The pride that U.S. Sugar has in its heritage, and this historic symbol in particular, is something truly exceptional in this day-and-age,” said Shane Meador, FMW Solutions Vice President. “We are honored to have worked with U.S. Sugar to complete the restoration of No. 148 and have been pleased with its performance during recent test runs and yesterday’s historic run.”

To coincide with this momentous occasion, and in support of the expanded mission of operating No. 148, U.S. Sugar is also pleased to announce that it will be operating the steam locomotive under the brand it has dubbed the “Sugar Express.” This new name is in reference both to the locomotive’s heritage at U.S. Sugar and its future role hauling “Express” trains across some of the hundreds of miles of mainline railroad maintained and operated by U.S. Sugar. 

To learn more about the steam engine, and to stay up to date, visit SugarExpress.com and follow U.S. Sugar No. 148 on its updated Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/SugarExpress

About Sugar Express

The mission of the Sugar Express is to provide a safe and educational means to learn about transportation history, agriculture, and U.S. Sugar. It will use historic steam locomotive No. 148 to take visitors on trips through the lush crop lands cultivated by the nearly 2,500 hardworking employees of U.S. Sugar. For more information, visit sugarexpress.com.

About FMW Solutions LLC

FMW Solutions LLC (FMW) was organized in 2016 to provide innovative solutions to clients in need of rail industry mechanical services. The three principals of FMW offer more than 50 years of experience in the field of railroad mechanical service, engineering design, and strategic planning, and FMW’s team of mechanics and technicians provide innovative solutions to the rail sector. This expertise spans a diverse body of work including Class I railroad diesel-electric locomotive repair, short line diesel-electric locomotive inspection and repair, total steam locomotive overhaul, and railroad mechanical equipment consulting. More info can be found online: www.fmwsolutions.com.