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USSC
Clewiston, Florida
Lat: 26°57'25.60"N Lon: 80°54'2.25"W

This story was pretty sweet. Florida’s United States Sugar Corp. has over 180,000 acres of cane fields, employing 1700 people. Founded in 1931 by Charles Mott, it is the largest sugar grower in a state that is second only to Louisiana in total American sugar production. USSC alone produces 8% of the nation’s sugar supplies. That’s a lot for one company.

But when you watch them do it, you can understand how every year the company produces sheer mountains of the stuff. It has everything to do with the proximity of its marketplace. See, USSC has two unusual features: it possesses its own railroad and its processing plant is comprised of both a mill and refinery. Most sugar operations only locate a mill near their cane-fields, leaving the refining to a plant nearer to market. That’s why you so often see a Domino Sugar refinery on the outskirts of big east-coast cities. But USSC is so close to its market that it can do it all in one place and then ship it away—having obvious economic benefits. Thus, the company has grown in leaps and bounds over the past eight decades.

Back to the railroad—I mean, that’s pretty awesome. Every morning in some stretch of sugarcane vastness there is a HUGE fire set in order to burn off the botanical greenery. Then, Sugar Combine Harvesters, wonderfully strange-looking machines, run down the rows scrolling up the singed stalks and automatically chopping them into pieces that land in the dump wagon rolling beside it. The loaded wagon in turn unburdens itself into hopper cars that sit on rails that weave throughout the fields. At regular intervals, locomotives pull the train cars to the plant a few miles away. It’s pretty hefty stuff—and really good business.

Funny anecdote. Our man Bret was crouched beside his camera, getting a low angle on the fire as it roared through the sugarcane—a scary sight with lots of heat. To Bret’s utter shock and amazement, a full-grown bobcat burst from the flaming vegetation, cutting past camera and bounding in panic towards safer fields beyond. Bret barely had time to blink before the cat had skirted just past him, brushing against his side, and then was gone—a poignant Wild Kingdom moment in the middle of Off Limits.

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