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Knight Management – Solid alliances mean solid business success

Steve Williams (shown at a recent sweet corn industry meeting) serves as president of Knight Management, Inc.

Steve Williams understands a good thing. He’s the president of Knight Management, Inc., a diversified farming operation in the Belle Glade area. Since the mid-1990s, it has been aligned with Duda Farm Fresh Foods.

“Duda processes and markets our sweet corn,” Williams said. “We rent substantial land from them as well. Duda’s assets – its land and its processing facility, allow us to have a large sweet corn program. We couldn’t do it without them. We have a symbiotic relationship with them. We go hand in glove.”

This year, Knight Management produced more than 1.4 million containers of sweet corn during the just-concluded spring season. Its fall volume, a lighter season, is about 156,000 containers. In addition to sweet corn, the company grows sugar cane, green beans and sod. It also owns a ranching operation with 600-plus head of cattle on 2,000 acres and a small orange grove in northern Polk County.

“Our citrus holdings were about 1,500 acres, give or take, but greening has pretty much wiped the East Coast operation out,” Williams said. “We’re just holding the property for future endeavors. It was tough. When I started 33 years ago, citrus was a money-maker for the company. It was a small division, but profitable. Now it’s virtually nil.

“I’d say our cultivated acres would total about 20,000 acres,” Williams added. “We have about 14,000 to 16,000 harvested acres with green beans.” The company also rents land to lettuce grower TKM Farms. “Rental land is a revenue stream, but it’s not part of our active operation even though it’s part of our ag makeup in terms of property,” he said.

Knight Management goes back to the early 1950s as S.M. Knight, Inc., founded by Sam Knight, a former Duda employee. The company was restructured over the years and organized into various divisions representing individual commodities and a real estate holding company.

Citrus greening doesn’t affect Knight’s other crops, but the weather does. “The weather was a challenge this year. We dodged the frost but got late rains and the markets were iffy up front due to cold weather in the consuming areas of sweet corn,” Williams said. “They just do not buy our corn en-masse when the weather is cold in the northeast and upper Midwest, our specialists say. So we left corn in the field.”

The big blow, Williams said, was South Florida’s five-inch rain total in May during when the company traditionally ramps up volume for Memorial Day. “We harvested, but harvesting was at a half rate, and I estimate right now that we left a couple hundred acres due to rain,” he said.

Overall, Williams said he believes this year turned out to be a fair year, thanks to the marketing efforts of the Florida Sweet Corn Exchange and the Sweet Corn Growers Exchange, Inc.

“You have to take into account the weather and other challenges, such as keeping up with the latest food safety requirements and finding better cultivation and production techniques,” Williams said. “We’re taking a hard look at various seed varieties.” Some of these efficiencies have resulted in more production from less acreage. The company has decreased some acreage over the years due to increased yields, different farming techniques and practices, and better seed quality.

“The key to our success is hard work, research and a great working relationship with Duda,” Williams said. “We’ve been aligned with them for more than 20 years now and continue to bring in their green beans, sod and sweet corn. We may increase or decrease production in a certain area, but that relationship stays constant. It’s steady and dependable, and we are very glad to be a part of it.”

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