- Susan Salisbury Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Florida sugar industry pioneers Alfonso “Alfy” Fanjul, 80, and J. Pepe Fanjul, 73, were inducted into the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame earlier this month in Tampa.
Alfonso Fanjul, chairman and chief executive officer of Florida Crystals Corp., headquartered in West Palm Beach, and his brother Pepe Fanjul, vice chairman, chief operating officer and president of the company, were nominated for the honor by John L. Hundley, their longtime business partner.
Florida Crystals and Hundley, founder/president of Hundley Farms in Belle Glade, have a joint sweet corn farming venture that dates back 27 years.
The Fanjul family’s roots in sugar reach back more than 150 years. The family left Cuba in 1959, founded their company in Florida in 1960 as Osceola Farms Co. and New Hope Sugar Company.
At that time, the family purchased 4,000 acres of land in western Palm Beach County and several sugar mills in Louisiana. The mills were dismantled, transported by barge to Florida and erected in Pahokee as the Osceola sugar mill. The first crop of 10,500 tons of sugar was produced in 1961-62.
Today Florida Crystals farms on 190,000 acres in Palm Beach County and grows conventional and organic sugarcane, sweet corn and rice. The company also owns and operates two sugar mills, a sugar refinery, a rice mill, a packaging and distribution center and the largest biomass renewable power plant in North America, all in Palm Beach County.
Florida Crystals’ subsidiary, ASR Group, which it owns in partnership with Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, is the world’s largest cane sugar refining company, with refineries in Louisiana, California, New York, Maryland, Canada, Mexico, England, Italy and Portugal.
At the ceremony in Tampa attended by more than 500 people, the brothers said the honor is meaningful because it came from fellow farmers.
“It is recognition by our peers, the people who really know what heart and grit it takes to succeed in agriculture,” Alfy Fanjul said. “When people ask me what I do for a living, I say, ‘I’m a farmer.’ That’s what I am. I have done every job there is to do on a farm.”
Pepe Fanjul said, “Alfy and I believe that this honor is given to those who love the land and are champions of agriculture. We have dedicated our lives to protecting farmland and to keeping farmland in food production, and we will continue to do so for our descendants.”
The brothers grew up going to their family farms with their father and their grandfathers. Farming is their heritage and today, the sixth generation of the Fanjul family is working at Florida Crystals.
While Florida’s sugarcane was once hand-harvested, it is has been fully machine-harvested since the early 1990s.
Through the brothers’ leadership, Florida Crystals has invested in precision agriculture, which allows the company to use precise amounts of fertilizer and other inputs only when they are needed.
Florida Crystals has a state-of-the-art research center in Belle Glade with adjacent greenhouses and a new agricultural center where the precision data is analyzed.
Alfy Fanjul said, “The advancements in science and technology that we are employing on our farms make me more excited than I have ever been. We are growing more food to feed more people, and we’ve never been more sustainable. Florida agriculture has a wonderful story and a bright future, and we’re so proud to be part of it.”
Other producers who farm in the Everglades Agricultural Area who have been inducted into the hall of fame include Edward, Ferdinand and Joseph Duda in 2015, Fritz Stein in 2008, George Wedgworth in 1994 and Ruth Wedgworth in 1988.