Florida offers sweet deal for Everglades

The Florida Everglades

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Bob Moon: The nation's largest cane sugar producer plans to sell a huge chunk of the Everglades to the state of Florida.

The state announced today it will spend $1.75 billion on the land, which is currently owned by U.S. Sugar Corporation. The company, which accounts for 8 percent of the nation's sugar production, will abandon its business entirely within six years.

Marketplace's Jeremy Hobson reports.


Jeremy Hobson: Standing in front of the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, Republican Governor Charlie Crist made the announcement today.

Charlie Crist: This represents, if we're successful -- and I believe we will be -- the largest conservation purchase in the history of the state of Florida.

It was certainly a win for environmentalists, says Kirk Fordham, who heads the Everglades Foundation. Sugar companies are said to be among the biggest polluters of the everglades.

Kirk Fordham: Oh, this is something that the environmental community has been fighting for decades to acquire.

For the sugar industry, today's news was bittersweet. Ryan Weston is with the Florida Sugar Cane League.

Ryan Weston: If you've been to that area of Florida, you know that Clewiston is known as a sugar area. You know, their football field is Cane Field and everything around that entire area is really devoted to sugar cane production.

Still, unlike other commodities, sugar prices have remained flat so farmers can't reap the kinds of profits available in other crops.

Weston: Sugar is about the same price it's been for the last 20, 25 years.

U.S. Sugar's Senior Vice President Robert Coker says the eventual shutdown of U.S. Sugar six years from now won't put a huge dent in the 8.5 million tons of sugar produced domestically each year.

Robert Coker: You'll see private capital and you'll see private investment go in in different places and the marketplace will make up for it.

Hobson: Do you plan to stay in the sugar business after the end of U.S. Sugar?

Coker: At the end of the six-year reservation period, I'm going to be sending out a resume because I'm going to need a job.

That goes for the company's 1,700 other employees as well.

I'm Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.

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