February 22, 2009

U.S. Sugar, Florida Crystals seek deal

Florida Crystals, which is trying to block a proposed land deal that would benefit rival U.S. Sugar, is seeking to buy its rival's assets, the companies say.

Despite employing lobbyists to work against a proposal by Florida Gov. Charlie Crist for the state to buy $1.34 billion in environmentally important croplands from U.S. Sugar, Florida Crystals is hedging its bets by negotiating to buy key assets from its competitor, The Miami Herald reported Sunday.

Florida's two largest sugar growers acknowledged to the newspaper that they met last week in Clewiston, Fla., to explore a deal for U.S. Sugar's high-tech mill and other assets -- and that Crystals has discussed land swaps with the Crist administration should it enter into the governor's efforts to obtain the best swath of land for restoring linkages between Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades, the Herald reported.

Environmentalist say the 180,000 acres of sugar fields and citrus groves owned by U.S. Sugar are key to resolving the Everglades' water supply and pollution problems. Crist, however, is facing potent opposition from critics including lawmakers, the Miccosukee Tribe and other Everglades farmers.