Thursday September 1, 2022

Prominent sugarcane farmer and cattle rancher dies at 79

Longtime sugarcane and cattle industry rancher Joe Marlin Hilliard, a Fort Myers native and 2017 Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame inductee, passed away on Aug. 26. He was 79. 

Hilliard grew up on Hilliard Ranch in Hendry County. Following graduation from Clewiston High School in 1961, he began his career working on Hilliard Brothers Cattle Ranch, which his grandfather founded in 1906. Hilliard’s father and uncle took over ownership in the 1920s.

Among many career milestone, one was when Hilliard became one of the first producers to grow sugarcane on sandy soil. He created research projects with the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Immokalee Research and Education Center to advance his knowledge in that area, and he helped form the South Florida Agricultural Council. “Hilliard revolutionized the industry by introducing mechanical harvesting to the area through the Sugarland Harvesting Cooperative, ultimately resulting in an industry-wide adoption of the practice,”

U.S. Sugar officials, in a statement, say Hilliard and his family had a “long and storied relationship with our company as independent growers, business partners and friends.”

U.S. Sugar President and CEO Robert Buker Jr. says in the statement. “Joe Marlin was an innovator in Florida sugarcane farming, an entrepreneur, a rancher who greatly improved his family’s holdings, a shrewd business partner and a close personal friend,”

Hilliard Brothers of Florida, based in Clewiston, Hendry County, remains a family operation, with Joe Marlin Hilliard’s two sons, Joe Marlin II and Bryan, and his daughter, Mary Elizabeth, all directly involved in different aspects of the business.

Joe Marlin Hilliard supported several causes philanthropically, including multiple education programs and schools. Scholarships he’s funded include the Joe Marlin Hilliard Endowed Scholarship at the King Ranch Institute of Ranch Management at Texas A&M, Kingsville and the Joe Marlin and Barbara Hilliard Scholarship at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers.

Sugar Companies helping to reduce excess nutrients in the Everglades

The Everglades are a treasured part of South Florida’s environment and critical habitat for countless plant and animal species.

New numbers show efforts to reduce the number of excess nutrients flowing into the Everglades.

U.S. Sugar and similar farming groups are often criticized as the source of some excess nutrients, but they are working to be a part of the solution.

On hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland south of Lake Okeechobee.

U.S. Sugar is among the massive farming companies growing sugar, beans, corn and other crops in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA).

Area manager Steven Stiles has spent decades watching the sugar industry grow along with how best management practices have evolved.

Those regulations are aimed to support farmers while also protecting the environment.

One of those under the Everglades Forever Act requires a 25% reduction of phosphorus in the water that flows south off the farmlands then through water treatment areas and ultimately to the Everglades.

Phosphorus in the soil is essential to farming.

“If you don’t have phosphorus, you don’t grow it,” Stiles said.

But it can devastate plant and wildlife habitats in the Everglades and food sources when it gets into the water. U.S. Sugar announced this year they contributed a 66% reduction in phosphorus runoff.

“Keeping it on site is our target,” Stiles said.

Stiles talked about some of their practices, which include using laser technology to check that fields are level. The tractors pull those lasers, detecting uneven areas.

When a tractor runs over a spot that’s lower than level, it’ll drop dirt out,” according to Stiles

Level land keeps water from running off into the web of canals. But those canals also have ways of filtering the water before it flows to pumps that would take water off the farm property.

But the water that is pumped out is sampled and tested.

In pump stations around the EAA there are hundreds of samplers that take samples of the water that leaves the farm to measure just how much phosphorus is present.

Viles of water are sent to various labs where the phosphorus levels are studied and the annual percentages are calculated.

and according to Stiles, That allows everything in the Everglades to be more natural, the way it needs to be.

Collier County Man Faces First-Degree Felony Charges

A Collier County man has turned himself in after an investigation into construction fraud by the State Attorney’s Office.

The State Attorney’s Office says William Burgess, 67, turned himself in after a warrant was issued for his arrest.

Burgess is facing a first-degree felony for a scheme to defraud.

The State Attorney’s Office says Burgess entered into a contract with a Tampa-based construction management company to assist him in getting jobs in Collier County.

Burgess is not a licensed contractor, and the State Attorney’s Office says he forged the name of a licensed contractor on building permits and other documents. They say he also took jobs and payments in that contractor’s name without that contractor knowing.

The State Attorney’s Office also says Burgess hired a notary who he authorized to notarize documents without witnesses present.

Burgess is also accused of creating several businesses with similar names and defrauding people who entered contracts with him and then accused him of not doing any work. Burgess’ case was investigated by a construction fraud task force that is part of the State Attorney’s Office Economic Crimes Unit.