"The influx was in the '60s, and they are almost all gone," said Tere Pi Johnson, chief chemist and manager of quality control at the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida in Belle Glade.
Since then, Florida has become the nation's largest producer of sugar cane, with the majority of the crop grown in Palm Beach County.
Source: Tere Pi Johnson, Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida
And cane production has changed during that time, too: It's now much more high-tech, and there is a scarcity of workers to hold the jobs it demands.
"There is no program anywhere in the country where you can be trained to be a sugar technologist," said Johnson, who has worked in the sugar industry in Louisiana and Florida for more than 20 years .
is heading an effort to change that, with the creation of the Sugar Technology Institute at Palm Beach Community College's
Belle Glade campus.
first had the idea for the institute more than a decade ago and is pleased to see it finally happening.
Classes could start this fall.
The program would span 27 months and include classes in algebra, chemistry, physics, milling and extraction, filtration, clarification, crystallization and more, Johnson
Students would also spend two five-month milling seasons at one of the state's four sugar mills and two refineries.
"I envision starting with nine to 12 students in the program," Johnson