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U.S. Sugar, Duda complete $150 million south Florida deal

Duda-2
Sugarcane harvest in south Florida, located primarily in Palm Beach County, generates more than $800 million a year and pumps an estimated $2.2 billion upstream into Florida’s economy annually. (Photo courtesy of USDA/ARS)

A $150 million land deal announced in November between U.S. Sugar Corp. and A. Duda & Sons Inc. was finalized in mid-March.

Clewiston, FL-based U.S. Sugar bought Duda’s Palm Beach County sugar operation near Belle Glade, FL, and will assume production, with Duda’s 34 employees there becoming part of U.S. Sugar.

Duda, based in Oviedo, FL, will continue to grow sugar cane in Glades County, FL, and south Texas. The company will also have access to land owned by U.S. Sugar to expand its Belle Glade vegetable program, and will likely expand organic celery production. As one of the world’s largest celery growers, Duda already produces close to 115 million pounds a year in Florida under its “Dandy” brand.

In addition to the rich muckland it owned, valuable for its high organic content and of scarce availability in south Florida, Duda also was farming cane on land leased from other owners; those operations will now become part of U.S. Sugar, along with Duda’s current crop, facilities and equipment.

Neither company specified how much land was involved in the transaction, but before the sale, Duda owned 14,000 acres in unincorporated western Palm Beach County and farmed a total of 30,000 acres, about two-thirds of that dedicated to sucarcane production.

“This transaction allows Duda to grow its East Coast vegetable operations and take advantage of opportunities in other areas of our business, including the expansion of our diversified agricultural operations and real estate holdings across the country,” President and Chief Executive Officer David Duda said in a written statement.

Before the transaction was completed, U.S. Sugar farmed 183,000 acres of land and owned 160,000 acres. In 2010, the company sold 26,800 acres of land at a price of $197 million to the South Florida Water Management District for an Everglades restoration project. About 9,000 of those acres were devoted to sugarcane production while the others were citrus groves.

“The acquisition of Duda’s Palm Beach County sugar cane production is in keeping with our long-term strategy to be the most productive and efficient sugar business,” U.S. Sugar President and Chief Executive Officer Robert H. Buker Jr. said in a written statement.

Mr. Buker also said U.S. Sugar will fulfill Duda’s current sugar cane obligations to mills owned by Florida Crystals Corp. and the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida.

Florida sugar cane production, located primarily in Palm Beach County, generates more than $800 million a year from the sale of raw sugar and molasses, according to the University of Florida, which estimated that U.S. Sugar Corp.’s revenues are close to $600 million.

The sugar industry as a whole pumps an estimated $2.2 billion into Florida’s economy annually.

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