Fed up with being smeared by politicians and reporters alike, Florida farmers are pushing back by sharing their stories on social media.
Politicians, mostly Democrats, but a smattering of Republicans too, have sought favor from voters by blaming sugar and citrus farmers for polluting waterways and causing algae blooms that are choking local rivers and beaches. The pollution accusations are regularly launched by environmental activists, whose attacks and publicity stunts are eagerly covered by sympathetic newspapers and frequently include full color photos or video of protesters wearing biohazard protective clothing.
As has been pointed out previously, the attacks are false. Algae blooms have been well-documented in the state for over 100 years, and the attacks are purely political, not aimed at actually reducing the size and scope of the problem.
But Florida farmers have had enough. They want their fellow citizens to know that farmers are the “original environmentalists,” and “natural caretakers” of their own land. Without a sustainable environment, they wouldn’t be able to make a living.
Concerned with the direction the political rhetoric is headed, farmers are partnering with scientists who point out that the source of the algae blooms, too much phosphorous in Florida’s waterways, is actually caused by a much more significant source: Florida’s growing population.
Stewart Swanson, an extension agent with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) told the Okeechobee News of the growing disconnect between rhetoric and reality when it comes to algae blooms and agriculture:
“Everybody looks for a word that’ll catch everybody’s attention you know that’s how you get ‘Big Sugar’ and everything,” said Mr. Swanson. “But there isn’t that much acreage of sugarcane north of the lake. There’s a couple thousand acres near Highlands County, that’s about it. But in the watershed that runs all the way to Disney World you have 140,000 acres of citrus. So it’s 140,000 acres of citrus versus about 2,000 acres of sugar cane that’s in the watershed north of the lake.”
In the video below, Florida farmers and scientists acknowledge the algae problem but point out a painful truth: the pollution in Lake Okeechobee is not caused by sugar farmers. It’s caused by Florida’s ever-growing population and all of the negatives that come with that, including lawn fertilizer runoff, septic tank and sewage seeping into the waterways, and agriculture runoff north of the lake, mostly citrus and cattle farming.
The bottom line is that politicians and media attacks “Big Sugar” is actually distracting millions of Floridians from identifying and dealing with the real problem: ourselves.