What is in this article?:
• The original co-op sugar mill was designed to grind 5,000 tons of cane daily. This year, an exceptionally good season during which the co-op broke 10 production records, the mill averaged 23,000 tons daily and turned out a record 26,000 tons on one particularly busy day. The mill operates 24 hours a day during the harvest season, which usually runs November through March.
As executive offices go, George Wedgworth’s is rather modest. Located in a rear corner on the third floor of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida’s administrative building adjoining the big mill, it has the requisite pair of chairs and a desk with the usual clutter.
The photos and paintings on the wall mostly feature the mill itself. A collage shows the sugar refineries the co-op co-owns in the U.S. and around the world.
At the edge of the far wall is a small window with a view of the parking lot, and beyond that, the outskirts of Wedgworth’s hometown, Belle Glade, Fla.
The co-op recently celebrated running its 50th crop through the mill. Wedgworth has been the boss here for every one of those crops, and then some.
Two years before the first cane was milled here, he convinced 15 other farmers to join him in a co-op to produce sugar. Some had previously grown the crop, but acreage was severely limited by how much the Glades area’s two existing mills could handle. Wedgworth Farms, for example, then grew 200 acres of sugar cane; now it has 5,000 acres of it, and cane is its primary crop.
Wedgworth had been growing vegetable crops like celery, but disliked being vulnerable to both wintertime freezes and market vagaries.
“I could see that sugar could be the answer to a lot of problems, but we had to get volume,” he says. “I sat down with the president of U.S. Sugar, which dominated the business here then, and pleaded with him to take more volume from us. He wouldn’t do it, and that’s what prompted us to start the co-op.”