Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida: Boosting State Economy and Agriculture

Sugar Industry 10 min read

The Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida is a vital contributor to the state's agriculture sector, known for its sugarcane harvesting, transportation, and processing. Established primarily in Palm Beach County, the Cooperative consists of 45 grower-owners who cultivate sugarcane on about 70,000 acres. Their products, including raw sugar and blackstrap molasses, are marketed through the Florida Sugar and Molasses Exchange.

This vertically integrated agricultural enterprise emphasizes equitable treatment amongst its members, giving each grower a single vote regardless of their farm size. Furthermore, the Cooperative focuses on responsible agricultural practices and environmental sustainability while striving to uplift the local community.

Key Takeaways

  • The Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida (SCGC) is an integrated agricultural organization of 45 grower-owners in Palm Beach County.
  • Primarily focusing on sugarcane cultivation and processing, the Cooperative's products include raw sugar and blackstrap molasses.
  • Encouraging responsible agricultural practices and environmental sustainability, the Cooperative also seeks to positively impact the local community.
Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida

History and Formation

Founding of the Cooperative

The Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida (SCGC) is an agriculturally based enterprise involved in a vertically integrated process of bringing sugar from cane fields in South Florida to dinner tables, restaurants, and food manufacturing facilities throughout America and around the globe. SCGC was established by a group of 54 grower members who processed their first crop in the 1962-63 season. The cooperative's Glades Sugar House, located just northeast of Belle Glade off Airport Road, serves as a major processing facility for sugarcane harvested in the region.

The cooperative's primary goal is to facilitate the cultivation and processing of sugarcane in a manner that optimizes resources and ensures quality and efficiency for its member-growers. SCGC strives to achieve this by conducting rigorous tests on germplasm lines, a process required for the release of new cultivars. This continuous improvement process helps to maintain the quality and yield potential of the sugarcane crops in South Florida.

Affiliation with Florida Crystals Corporation

Over two decades ago, Florida Crystals Corporation (FCC) and the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida formed a strategic partnership. This alliance aimed at uniting the family-owned sugarcane farmers and millers towards large-scale refining of their raw sugar. Both FCC and SCGC have a strong heritage in Florida's sugar industry, and their affiliation allows for a collaborative effort in producing high-quality sugar products for consumers and manufacturers alike.

The partnership between SCGC and FCC has significantly contributed to the growth and development of Florida's sugar industry, ensuring the production of sustainable, high-quality sugarcane products that support regional economies and cater to the needs of the market.

Membership and Voting

Eligibility and Joining Process

Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida was formed to provide a platform for growers to harvest, mill, process, and market sugar and molasses. Currently, the Cooperative is comprised of 39 grower members. To become a member, a grower needs to meet certain eligibility criteria, which may include farm size, location, and production capacity.

The joining process involves submitting an application and participating in a review by the Cooperative board. Each eligible farmer, no matter their farm size, is treated equally and granted the same rights and privileges as other members.

Voting Rights and Procedures

One of the key principles of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida is the equal treatment of all its members in terms of voting rights. Consequently, each member, whether large or small, is entitled to one vote.

Members exercise their voting rights during board meetings and general assemblies, where they discuss and decide on the Cooperative's policies, management, and operation strategies. In instances where a new board chairman is to be elected, voting occurs in a democratic manner with every member having an equal say, as demonstrated by the election of Robert J. Underbrink succeeding John L. Hundley as Chairman in 2020.

Agricultural Practices

Sugarcane Varieties and Farming Techniques

Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida is a vertically integrated agricultural enterprise that harvests, transports, and processes sugarcane grown primarily in Palm Beach County, Florida. The Cooperative is made up of 45 grower-owners who produce sugarcane on approximately 70,000 acres of fertile land.

Different sugarcane varieties are selected and grown based on their resistance to diseases and pests, as well as their ability to produce high yields and high-quality sugar. Sugarcane is typically planted in rows with the use of advanced farming techniques such as precision agriculture, which helps to maximize efficiency and productivity while minimizing environmental impact. Throughout the growing season, fields are carefully managed, with regular monitoring of soil health, pest control, and irrigation needs. The harvested sugarcane stalks are then transported to processing facilities to extract raw sugar and other byproducts like molasses and bagasse.

Organic Sugarcane Farming and Certification

Organic sugarcane farming is an alternative agricultural practice that emphasizes the use of natural processes and materials to maintain soil fertility and control pests and diseases. This method of farming requires strict adherence to organic standards and guidelines, which aim to enhance biodiversity, maintain ecological balance, and promote environmental sustainability.

In order to be certified as an organic sugarcane farm, growers must follow a set of stringent requirements, which may include:

  • Avoiding the use of synthetic fertilizers and instead using organic matter such as compost and green manure to maintain soil fertility
  • Employing biological pest control methods like introducing beneficial insects and using natural pesticides
  • Rotating crops to reduce soil depletion and break pest cycles, which may involve growing other crops like corn in between sugarcane plantings
  • Avoiding GMOs and adhering to strict organic seed purchasing regulations

Certified organic sugar is derived from sugarcane that has been grown, harvested, and processed according to these organic farming standards. Additionally, the certification process involves ongoing inspections, records maintenance, and audits to ensure compliance with organic regulations. This results in a high-quality, environmentally responsible product that consumers can trust.

Products and Outputs

Raw Sugar Production and Quality

The Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida is a vertically integrated agricultural enterprise that primarily operates in Palm Beach County, Florida. They are responsible for harvesting, transporting, and processing sugarcane grown by their grower-owner members. The primary output produced by the cooperative is raw sugar, which is then marketed through the Florida Sugar and Molasses Exchange.

The cooperative is dedicated to maintaining high-quality raw sugar production. They achieve this through a combination of careful sugarcane cultivation practices, expert personnel, and efficient processing facilities. Each step of the process is closely monitored to ensure the final product meets industry standards and customer expectations.

Blackstrap Molasses and Its Uses

In addition to raw sugar, the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida also produces blackstrap molasses. This is a byproduct of the sugar production process and is obtained during the third boiling of cane sugar syrup. Blackstrap molasses is a thick, dark liquid that is rich in nutrients such as iron, potassium, and calcium.

Blackstrap molasses has various applications, including its use in the livestock feed industry, as a natural sweetener, and as an ingredient in the production of industrial alcohol. It is a valuable product with a diverse range of uses, contributing to the cooperative's commitment to sustainable and efficient agricultural practices.

The Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida continues to support its members by offering administrative assistance, agricultural and planting advice, as well as harvesting, processing, and marketing operations for their sugarcane. By focusing on the production of raw sugar and blackstrap molasses, the cooperative plays a crucial role in providing these products to customers across the United States and around the world.

Role in the Sugar Industry

Relationship with ASR Group and Sugar Refineries

Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida (SCGC) has a strategic relationship with ASR Group, an agricultural marketing cooperative responsible for the selling and shipping of raw sugar and molasses. ASR Group consists of Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative, Osceola Farms Company, and Okeelanta Corporation. The cooperative helps its members to harvest, mill, process, and market sugar and its by-products.

One of the key roles played by SCGC in the sugar industry is their collaboration with sugar refineries, which helps maintain a consistent supply chain within the United States. By working hand-in-hand with these refineries, SCGC ensures the constant production of raw sugar, molasses, and other sugar-based products that cater to the needs of consumers.

Participation in Non-Profit Trade Associations

In addition to fostering relationships with ASR Group and sugar refineries, SCGC also actively participates in various non-profit trade associations in the sugarcane industry. This involvement allows the cooperative to stay abreast of important developments, policies, and trends within the industry, while also sharing their insights and expertise with others in the field.

SCGC plays a significant role in various coalitions and initiatives that advocate for sustainable practices, fair trade policies, and the improvement of the overall sugarcane sector. By being an active member of these associations, the cooperative not only represents its own member-growers but also contributes to the greater good of the sugar industry at large.

Environmental Efforts and Sustainability

Protecting Palm Beach County’s Environment and Resources

The Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida is committed to protecting the environment and resources in Palm Beach County. Their focus is on implementing environmentally friendly technology and practices, which helps to preserve the ecosystem and ensure a sustainable future for the community. Cooperative farmers are at the forefront of industry innovation, pioneering new technological breakthroughs and incorporating thoughtful farming practices that result in cleaner water and healthier soil.

With a strong emphasis on conservation, the cooperative continuously improves its methods to reduce the impact of sugarcane farming on local resources. This includes measures such as an Automated Storage and Retrieval system, which helps to conserve water sources, and the production of Tellus Products. These efforts contribute to the overall well-being of Palm Beach County's environment and its communities.

Promotion of Sustainable Agriculture Practices

In addition to protecting the environment and resources, the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida promotes the adoption of sustainable agriculture practices among its sugarcane farmers. This involves implementing various measures to ensure that the sugarcane farming process is as efficient, responsible, and eco-friendly as possible. Some of these practices include:

  • Precision farming techniques: Employing advanced technology to optimize the use of resources, such as water, fertilizer, and pesticides, ultimately reducing waste and minimizing environmental impact.
  • Soil conservation: Incorporating cover crops, crop rotation, and minimum tillage techniques to maintain soil fertility, prevent erosion, and promote healthy soil structure.
  • Water management: Utilizing irrigation systems designed to use water efficiently and responsibly, reducing the consumption of water resources while maintaining optimal crop growth.

Through these and other initiatives, the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida remains dedicated to fostering a strong relationship between its sugarcane farmers, local communities, and the environment, ensuring a sustainable and prosperous future for all.

Cooperative's Impact in the Community

Supporting Local Farmers and Communities

The Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida (SCGC) plays an important role in supporting local farmers and communities. As a vertically integrated agricultural enterprise that brings sugar from cane fields in South Florida to dinner tables, the cooperative helps to create and maintain jobs throughout the region. It also ensures that farmers receive fair treatment, regardless of the size of their farms. As of now, the cooperative is made up of 39 grower members, each with an equal vote in decision-making. This democratic structure helps in strengthening the agricultural community.

Furthermore, the SCGC produces a variety of products, including raw sugar and feed for animals, which, in turn, promotes economic growth and provides essential resources for the community.

Advocacy for Affordable and Accessible Sugarcane Products

The Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida actively advocates for affordable and accessible sugarcane products. Through its partnership with companies like Florida Crystals Corporation, it ensures that the sugar produced meets the highest standards of quality. By promoting efficient sugarcane farming practices and refining technologies, the cooperative aims to make products more affordable for consumers.

In addition, SCGC supports initiatives and regulations that protect the interests of the sugarcane industry in Florida. By doing so, it helps to maintain a competitive market, which ultimately benefits both local farmers and consumers.

By supporting local farmers and communities, as well as advocating for affordable and accessible sugarcane products, the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida makes a significant impact on the community.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Who owns the cooperative?

The Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida is owned by 39 grower members. Each member, regardless of the size of their farm, is treated equally, with one vote per member.

Largest sugarcane producer?

Palm Beach County is the largest sugarcane producer in Florida, accounting for approximately 75% of the commercial sugarcane acreage and 75% of the total harvested sugarcane tonnage. The remainder of Florida's commercially produced sugarcane is grown in Hendry, Glades, and Martin counties.

Sugar cane harvest details?

Florida's sugarcane harvest season typically runs from late September to mid-April, depending on the weather and growing conditions. Palm Beach County has the largest concentration of sugarcane acres in Florida, followed by Hendry, Glades, and Martin counties.