A recent column on InsideSources about sugarcane farming painted a wholly incomplete and inaccurate picture of the industry, which has done more to help Everglades restoration than any other private entity to date.
The article asserted that farmers are causing “environmental damage,” which is an insult to the generations of men and women who have not only led in the area of Everglades restoration, but have also helped to secure America’s food supply by farming sugarcane.
Since 1994, Florida’s sugarcane farmers have reduced phosphorus in the water they use for farming by an average of 55 percent annually – more than double the 25 percent they are required by law. Thanks to Best Management Practices (BMPs) the farmers developed working with the University of Florida, 100 percent of the water in Everglades National Park is now meeting the stringent 10 parts per billion standard. Water in the Everglades is now cleaner than it has been in generations.
It’s simply not true that sugarcane farmers have “a strong financial incentive to foul this wilderness.” Too much phosphorus actually lowers sugar production in the cane. In addition, farmers pay less in cleanup taxes if their water is cleaner than required. Glades farmers have invested $400 million through an agricultural privilege tax, on-farm clean up and ongoing research into improved solutions. Farmer-funded research has helped to develop the BMPs used to clean water before it heads south.
The article incorrectly stated that the Florida Legislature secured additional land earlier this year to build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. In reality, the Everglades Agricultural Area residents who were concerned about the unwelcome economic impact the land buy would have on their communities mobilized against the plan to buy 60,000 acres of their land. As a result, what passed the Florida Legislature will use existing state-owned land to build the reservoir.
The article also suggested that sugarcane farmers receive a federal subsidy. If true, it would be news to the thousands of farmers who currently do not receive federal subsidy checks. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that domestic sugar policy will have no taxpayer cost for the next decade.
Unfortunately, the article also attempted to give credibility to the lie that domestic sugar prices are on the rise. When was the last time you paid for sugar for your coffee at a local restaurant? Considering the lack of subsidies for domestic farmers, the price of American sugar remains a bargain when compared to what is being sold by our foreign competitors. The retail price of sugar is less in the U.S. than most developed countries — 29 percent less on average. Mexican sugar is actually higher priced than U.S. sugar and the Mexicans were found by the U.S. government in 2012 and 2013 to be illegally dumping sugar into the U.S. market.
America’s sugarcane farmers continue to face down the threat of market manipulation on the part of the Mexican government and industry.
Florida sugarcane farmers are part of the solution, not the problem. Today, Florida’s sugarcane farmers have a $3.2 billion annual impact on Florida’s economy and support over 12,500 jobs to the local farming communities.
Sugarcane farmers also grow citrus, sweet corn, green beans and many other vegetables, during the winter when very few other areas can grow food for America. These individuals work hard to protect our food supply from foreign threats, which have created economic uncertainty in other parts of our country.
Inaccurate statements made about sugarcane farmers do more to drive people apart rather than bring them together. We should be finding ways to increase awareness of these issues and not spreading misinformation in an attempt to disparage a pillar of this nation’s farming economy.
Ryan Weston is chief executive officer of the Florida Sugar Cane League and former staff director for the U.S. House of Representatives’ Conservation Subcommittee of the Agriculture Committee and former agriculture staffer for Rep. John Boehner.