Fla. sugar farmers take exception to bashing by Post’s Randy Schultz

Op-ed: New Everglades Legislation Will Build Upon Success of State and Farmers’ Efforts

By Robert Coker, U.S. Sugar and Gaston Cantens, Florida Crystals

We take exception to Randy Schultz’ recent pronouncement in the Palm Beach Post that sugar farmers are not doing enough for restoration.  This ignores nearly 20 years of detailed and heavily documented progress.

The agricultural area south of Lake Okeechobee includes the farming of sweet corn, green beans, lettuce and leaf, radishes, rice, celery, and of course,  sugarcane.  In fact, so many vegetables are grown here that the area is knsugar farmersown as the “Winter vegetable capital of Florida.”

Farmers here are the only farmers in the country to pay a special “privilege tax” to farm our land.  Those taxes have provided more than $200 million for Everglades restoration.  In addition, farmers are spending additional millions of dollars each year to clean water leaving our farms.  Everglades law requires us to reduce phosphorus leaving our farms by 25%.  Since 1996, our efforts have reduced phosphorus an average of 55%.    In fact, over the past two years, we have achieved over 70% reductions.  This means the water leaving our lands actually has phosphorus content dramatically lower than the water we take from Lake Okeechobee for irrigation.

It’s neither fair nor helpful to ignore these widely recognized efforts and the success stemming from the on-farm efforts in conjunction with state water treatment marshes.  Today, the majority of the Everglades Protection Area is meeting stringent water quality standards. In fact, Everglades National Park meets the 10 parts per billion standard, a standard cleaner than rain.

No other portion of the Everglades ecosystem that stretches from Orlando to the Florida Keys, other than this farmland, has been singled out for additional taxes nor tasked with clean-up at their own expense.  In fact, in other areas of the system farmers can be paid or reimbursed to implement the water and soil management practices that we south of the Lake must fund ourselves.

While we all agree that there are still problems in the system, the Florida Legislature is showing true leadership by updating Everglades Restoration statutes to reflect the latest advances in Restoration Strategies and projects.  Part of the funding for future advances will come from an extension of the taxes on sugar and vegetable farmers.  We have agreed to continue paying these taxes to benefit restoration, even though they are otherwise scheduled to expire.

House Bill 7065 will codify current restoration plans into existing law and approve funding mechanisms.  It includes language that ensures that farmers who are paying additional taxes and meeting clean-up requirements are in compliance with State law.  Not being able to continually raise taxes on other people apparently irked opponents of this bill, who blew off repeated invitations to provide input.

That is unfortunate because groups that prefer litigate and complain rather than engage in meaningful discourse only delay and obstruct restoration.  The Chairman of the State Affairs Committee met with the Everglades Foundation Board, visited with them in South Florida and even attended their Everglades Gala at the Breakers.

No matter what we do or how much we pay–it obviously will never be enough for certain people and groups.  It’s a good thing that farmers and Florida’s elected officials are willing to recognize true progress and support legislation that will implement the final round of Everglades restoration projects rather than just continue to criticize and litigate.

Robert Coker, U.S. Sugar                      Gaston Cantens, Florida Crystals

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  • Florida Guy

    I use Florida sugar on my cereal in the morning. I like it and its tasty.

  • John R.

    Robert and Gaston, not many people stop to think about the positive impact you make, in jobs, in economic gains for this region, and in your sense of corporate responsibility. You are correct, that no amount of money or sacrifice on your part will ever be enough for the malcontents on the shrill side of the environmental movement. But you have friends within the leadership of this community, people who really understand what goes on, who appreciate what you do. Keep it up, keep getting the facts out, because facts are your best ally in this struggle, your best bet to show the world that people like Schultz are simply dead wrong.

  • Jack Furnari

    Randy Schultz will only be happy when every job creator in the state has been driven out.

  • JOEL GOODMAN

    HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN THAT THE PALM BEACH PRAVDA AND THEIR PET BULLDOG, SCHULTZ, HATE EVERYTHING THAT IS AMERICAN OR SOMEWHAT PROFIT ORIENTED? THEY ARE STILL PUSHING FOR A MARXIST SOCIETY FOLLOWING THE ALINSKY BOOK TO THE LETTER.DAMNED SHAME WE DON'T HAVE A LOCAL NEWSPAPER THAT IS GOOD FOR ANYTHING OTHER THAN WRAPPING FISH OR WIPING YOUR BUTT.(not even good for that as the ink comes off on your rear)

  • yum

    Nice bit of sugar on your oatmeal mmmmm I like it

  • http://www.posterchildrenfortermlimits.com George Blumel

    If you didn't report the Post's bashing of sugar farmers on the restoration and phosporus issue, no one would know about it. When I get promotions and solicitations to subscribe to that paper I just tell them that I don't need it since by bird died.