By Julia du Plooy
It’s summertime again, which means backyard barbecues, family vacations and weekend beach trips are back. True to form, with the heavy rains expected to start in June, so too will the flood of misinformation from special interest “activists“ who blame farmers – without any actual evidence – for nearly every environmental problem in Florida.
Farmers unfortunately are used to these attacks, but this year is a little different. American farmers are facing some of the highest input costs in decades stemming from the war in Ukraine, high gas prices, continued supply chain issues and nationwide labor shortages. With the cost of growing safe, local food going up from forces outside our control, why would anyone add fake attacks on social media to the pressures on our food supply?
The answer is that these pseudo-environmental groups need an enemy to raise money remain newsworthy. And the time of year that brings potential discharges from Lake Okeechobee, algae blooms on the coasts and Red Tide in the gulf is their Super Bowl.
Become educated on the common misinformation about farmers pushed on social media by the anti-farmer Everglades Foundation and the groups they finance like Captains for Clean Water, the Sierra Club and the Everglades Trust.
These groups falsely blame farmers south of Lake Okeechobee for the lake’s summer discharges. Most of South Florida’s sugarcane, vegetable, rice and sod farms are located south of Lake Okeechobee and contribute almost nothing to Lake Okeechobee annually. According to the South Florida Water Management District, last year and nearly every year, 95 percent of the water in Lake Okeechobee came from the Kissimmee River basin north of it, not south of it where these farmers are located. To be clear, Lake Okeechobee has a problem with too much water flowing into the lake, but the vast majority of the problem does not enter from the south.
These groups also try to blame farmers south of the lake for coastal algal blooms. Algae is a naturally occurring phenomenon, common in most lakes, high summer temperatures, along with nutrients in both the lake as well as the local basins of the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie
rivers provide the perfect conditions to help them form. Farmers south of the lake do not contribute to the nutrients in Lake Okeechobee (or on the coasts) in any meaningful way.
Another falsehood spread by activists is that farmers south of Lake Okeechobee are responsible for Red Tide. According to many independent scientists, Red Tide forms approximately 40 miles offshore and ocean currents can move it inshore causing an unwanted impact on sea life and tourists at beaches. Red Tide existed long before man inhabited the peninsula of Florida according to records left behind by Spanish explorers. And more recently, research from universities such as the University of South Florida found that in 2018 “ocean circulation [was] the major determinant of Florida’s, Karenia brevis harmful algae blooms, dispelling the myth that land-based fertilizers are to blame.” Farmers agree that we need to better understand the impacts of human activity on these offshore blooms.
Many of these same groups attacking farmers over water are now attacking them about air quality in and around the Glades farming communities. Safe, controlled and prescribed pre-harvest burns are an important part of the sugarcane harvesting process in South Florida damp and humid climate, and data reported by public and private sources regularly shows Glades farming communities have good, safe air quality. Recent Sahara Dust episodes have more impact on local air quality as shown by the uptick in both coastal and inland air quality monitors and reported by tv meteorologists. Glades residents rely on years of public data published by the EPA on AirNow.gov that show the Glades communities have slightly better air quality on average than more congested coastal communities.
One of the more recent claims made by activists is that farmers south of Lake Okeechobee are causing droughts. This is proven false by water conditions data showing that for many months, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been discharging thousands of acre-feet of
freshwater from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico and has also sent significant amounts of water to the Atlantic Ocean as it sends water south. Farmers have permits with the state of Florida, along with other water users south of Lake Okeechobee such as the City of West Palm Beach and the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Water utilities and farming communities have cautioned officials not to wastewater.
Sadly, during election years, activist groups seeking relevance perpetuate misinformation though political attacks. The sad reality is that should these groups be successful, American farming jobs would go away and further disrupt America’s food supply. Growing food
domestically is a national imperative and we should not cede one inch of our food supply to foreign farmers.
When you are out and about with friends and family this summer, consider the source of when you see local farmers blamed for everything under the sun. There are some very real and important problems we as a state must continue to confront. However, farmers have a history of being good stewards of land, water and air resources. They also are helping to solve these challenges by cleaning water, providing significant green space to capture carbon from the air and growing fresh fruit, vegetables and other food crops that nearly 180 million Americans depend on every year.