December 3, 2008

U.S. Sugar deal in Florida opposed

Florida Crystals and a Florida growers' cooperative said the state's offer to buy 180,000 acres from U.S. Sugar Corp. gives the company an unfair advantage.

The company and the Florida Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida said they opposed the $1.34 billion deal, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported Wednesday.

The deal creates a taxpayer subsidized sugar company, Florida Crystals spokesperson Gaston Cantens said.

Florida agreeing to rent the land back to U.S. Sugar for seven years for $50 an acre, although rent for sugar cane fields can run as high as $325 an acre, the newspaper said.

The deal has been heralded as an environmental coup, able to connect the Lake Okeechobee watershed to the Everglades. But, the environmental link between the two systems still falls 65,000 acres short with the land needed to link the areas mostly owned by Florida Crystals, the newspaper said.

The growers group offered to lease the land for $150 per acre.

U.S. Sugar Senior Vice President Robert Coker said, You have to look at this contract as a whole.

The company's board of directors plans to vote on the deal Monday. The South Florida Water Management District must also vote to accept the deal.