Environmentalists hamper Florida growers

By Doug Ohlemeier
The Packer
April 12, 2016

A war against South Florida growers is taking a toll on the truth.

After record winter rains deluged fields and raised canals to flooding levels, the South Florida Water Management District took emergency measures and pumped water back into Lake Okeechobee.

The “back pumping” generated media attention, while environmentalists accused farmers of pumping polluted water into the lake.

Truth is farmers weren’t sending polluted water into the lake or into the Everglades.

In late March, the media barrage continued, and the water management district released a fact sheet countering the false claims that farmers orchestrated the rare pumping.

Less than 1% of all water entering Lake Okeechobee originates south of the lake in the Everglades Agricultural Area where most of the region’s sweet corn, green beans, radishes and lettuces are grown.

Water running off growers’ fields is cleaner than when it enters, according to growers, who have invested millions of dollars into protecting the environment through required Best Management Practices and a mandatory $25 per acre Everglades privilege tax.

The growers have reduced phosphate discharges three times more than what is required and most of the water entering the lake originates in the Kissimmee River Valley’s headwaters around Walt Disney World in the Orlando, Fla., area, and includes a lot of urban runoff from streets, parking lots and golf courses.

John Scott Hundley, president of agricultural operations for Loxahatchee, Fla.-based Hundley Farms Inc., counters environmentalists’ blatantly false and distorted information.

“The hype and misinformation just drives peoples’ opinions and makes us look bad,” he said.

“It’s like we’re farmers who want to just kill the environment. I constantly try to work with people at all levels of government and environmentalists I know who don’t have all or any of the facts. It makes our job much more difficult because we’re constantly fighting in the court of public opinion.”

There’s a lot of politics involved in the area-wide industry issue and the lies and misleading statements from groups including the Sierra Club  — which targets US Sugar Corp. — tarnish the region’s farmers overall.

About 80% of the region’s acreage is sugarcane and many south Florida vegetable growers also grow sugarcane.

It’s “wagging tongue syndrome,” where many well-intentioned people believe things they read or hear, and it’s difficult for many to separate emotions from facts.

The war on growers has been going since the 1970s and likely won’t stop until environmentalists swallow every acre of land in south Florida from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean.

Fortunately for Florida’s ag industry, members of Hundley’s generation and the next feel like fighting and don’t plan to surrender of the truth that farmers are good stewards of their resources.

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