Last week, Friends of the Everglades Executive Director Eve Samples took to the air with a volunteer LightHawk pilot to survey sugarcane burning in the Everglades Agricultural Area south of Lake Okeechobee. It didn’t take long to find what they were looking for.
Within five minutes of takeoff, they spotted several large burns, with smoke and ash blowing westward toward the Glades communities of Belle Glade, South Bay, Pahokee and Clewiston.
Elsewhere in South Florida, it was a blue-sky day. But above the Glades, it looked like twilight due to the smoke, known to locals in the Glades as “black snow.” The burns produced so much smoke that the plumes showed up as rain on the LightHawk pilot’s radar.
Keep in mind: This map shows just one day during the sugarcane burning season that runs from October to May every year. Current regulations, overseen by the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, have failed to address inadequate protections for Glades communities, leaving residents exposed to air pollution, health risks and economic stress due to pre-harvest burning. Making matters worse, these unjust regulations are based largely on wind direction and do not allow permits to be issued when the winds are blowing east toward wealthier coastal communities.
It doesn’t have to be like this. Other sugarcane producing countries like Brazil have phased out sugarcane burning, choosing to shift to the safer practice of green harvesting and setting a precedent that Florida could follow. Yet U.S. Sugar and Florida Crystals continue to burn hundreds of thousands of acres in the Everglades Agricultural Area.
Florida has failed us on this. But there is another path forward. The U.S. Farm Bill is being negotiated right now — and it’s an opportunity to hold Big Sugar responsible for this harm to the environment and public health.
If you haven’t already, you can click below to urge Congress to end the sugar program in the Farm Bill. Though the official deadline for this action was March 31, community input is still being accepted.