CLEWISTON — On March 13, the Clewiston Sugar Festival Committee honored U.S. Sugar President and CEO Robert H. Buker, Jr. as the 2023 Sugar Festival Honoree.
Buker was joined by his wife Barbara, other members of his family and friends at a community luncheon in his honor as the annual Sugar Festival activities kick off for the week.
“Every year, we are proud to select a local individual who embodies the spirit of ‘America’s Sweetest Town’ through community service, philanthropy and a record of unselfish giving of themselves,” said Clewiston Sugar Festival Executive Director Julia duPlooy. “Throughout his time working for U.S. Sugar, supporting many local community causes, and countless hours of community service, Mr. Buker has not only been a force for good in helping lead the local agricultural community, but also for our local communities.”
2023 year marks 37 years of Buker’s service to U.S. Sugar and our local communities. He holds the distinction of being the longest-tenured CEO in U.S. Sugar’s storied history, with 19 years in that role. Throughout his time with the company, Buker’s leadership has left an indelible mark on the Clewiston community through projects he has championed and organizations he and his wife Barbara have generously supported. Having raised his children in Clewiston, Buker is also making sure his grandchildren spend time in our farming communities and learn about its sugar and farming heritage. Buker also has generously given back to the area through many worthy causes. Whether it was helping to provide for new shoes with his Laces for Love shoe drive, his unwavering support for youth marksmen events, contributions to local animal relief services and support for children in organizations such as FFA and 4H, many of our area youth and their families have benefited from Buker’s generosity. Under Buker’s leadership, the City of Clewiston has also benefited through support for projects such as the recently upgraded Clewiston Youth Center, the rehabilitation of city parks and local youth sports facilities.
Buker first joined U.S. Sugar in 1986 as vice president of legal affairs after having worked as outside legal counsel for several years. While he has accomplished a great deal during his almost 40 years with the company, here are some his most noteworthy professional achievements:
• The company has acquired 75,000 acres of farmland, increasing land ownership from 153,000 acres to 228,000 acres.
• He conceived, designed and built a total revitalization of the company’s sugar manufacturing, agricultural and railroad operations.
• He was the industry mastermind behind Everglades Restoration and started the “Open Harvest” tour program, which invited members of the media and the public out to farms to show them all of our operations, a practice continued today, bringing up to 8,000 people to Clewiston every year.
• He led statewide efforts to defeat the “Penny per Pound” sugar tax in 1996 – saving the industry and Glades communities from the significant job losses that would have ensued.
• He was a leader in industry efforts to secure favorable trade agreements with Mexico and helped settle the anti-dumping lawsuit in 2014-15. In addition, he helped ensure numerous farm bills including no-cost sugar policy to keep foreign subsidized sugar from unfairly impacting American sugar farmers.
• When faced with challenges in our citrus division – a division he knew well from his time leading it – Buker took decisive action to prevent further devastation to the business.
• U.S. Sugar acquired Rouge River and Magnolia Packing, two nationally known sweet corn and green bean companies.
• U.S. Sugar became the best-in-class and the lowest-cost cane sugar producer in the United States.
• U.S. Sugar established the most aggressive and successful political and public affairs outreach programs in the country — defending and promoting our sugarcane and farming industry and community.
• He assembled one of the best management teams in the industry, fostering local leaders that are involved in countless local causes.
• In late 2022, U.S. Sugar acquired the Savannah Sugar Refinery from Louis Dreyfus, providing greater stability and reach to U.S. Sugar’s business and reconnecting the two historic family-owned companies who were historically connected when our raw sugar was shipped to the Savannah Refinery for refining decades ago.
During his time as president and CEO, Buker has put into practice the strong belief of U.S. Sugar’s founder, Charles Stewart Mott, “We are part of the community and what is good for the community is good for us.”
Above all else, Buker has accomplished all of these things while remaining a man of strong Christian faith, a committed husband, father, grandfather, and neighbor. For his many contributions to enhancing America’s Sweetest Town, Robert H. Buker, Jr. has been awarded this honor of distinction by the Clewiston Sugar Festival Committee.
For more information about the Clewiston Sugar Festival and to view a schedule of events for this year’s festival, please visit www.clewistonsugarfestival.com.