Clean Air in Our Communities: State of Florida Monitoring Data shows Glades Have Cleaner Air than Costal Areas

Clewiston, FL – After experiencing a delay to the start of harvest due to extremely wet field conditions, U.S. Sugar has begun the 2023-2024 harvesting season, while also releasing the latest monitoring data measured by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The data once again shows the Everglades Agricultural Area and surrounding farming communities have excellent air quality, even better than on the coast.

The data, taken over a 335-day period from October 2022 to August of 2023 show Glades air is in the best of six categories listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for 311 days – 93 percent of the time – and in the next-best the other 24 days. Additionally, a Princeton University-based study shows sugarcane crops contribute to cleaning carbon dioxide from the air.

“The Glades farming communities have excellent air quality throughout the year, whether measured during the harvest season, pre-harvest or post-harvest,” said Judy Sanchez, Senior Director of Corporate Communications at U.S. Sugar. “This has been true year after year, and it once again proves that anti-farming critics are simply wrong about the air in the Glades. “Professional-grade air quality monitors in every location also show that good, safe air quality is very consistent throughout the entire region, never falling anywhere near ‘unhealthy’ categories.”

Glades air quality meets all state and federal Clean Air Act standards for PM2.5, the amount of “fine particulates.” “Good” air has less than 12 particles per cubic meter.  The average for the Glades over the October—August time period covered in this update was 7.36 particles.  By comparison, Royal Palm Beach came in at 7.52 and Delray at 7.62.

Fine particulates in rural areas can come from car and truck exhaust, dust from dirt roads and asphalt dust, sand particles blown in from the Sahara Desert, smoke from all types of fires, fireworks, BBQs, emissions from lawn mowers and leaf blowers, soot, ash, mineral dust, pollen, mold spores, rubber tire dust, emissions from fume hoods and smokestacks, and construction dust, among others.

Excellent air quality is generally consistent throughout the region all year-round, but that was disrupted on October 3, when smoke from Canadian wildfires reached Central and South Florida. As a result, our local ”good” and safe air quality in the region moved into the “unhealthy” range. At 10:00 am in Belle Glade, the public air quality monitor showed an AQI reading of 161. “The air pollution readings in the Glades increased alarmingly as smoke from Canadian wildfires settled over our area,” Sanchez said.  “Air quality readings never came close to the ‘unhealthy’ range over the past year covered in this report before, during or after the Glades harvest season.”

On the battle against rising levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), the Carbon Mitigation Initiative at the High Meadows Environmental Institute at Princeton University reports that sugarcane has “turbocharged” efficiency to remove carbon dioxide from the air, calling sugarcane and corn “super-efficient workhorse crops.” Sugarcane and sweet corn are two of the major crops grown in the Glades farming region.

As we all live, work and raise our families together in these Glades farming communities, these numbers once again confirm what we see every day, that the air out here is “good, safe, and clean,” Sanchez said.

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U.S. Sugar Farmers Clean Water, Preserve Legacy

As an avid outdoorsman and fishing enthusiast, I spend a great deal of time on the water in my home state of Louisiana and now my adopted home in South Florida.  Following that passion, my career as an environmental engineer has focused on improving water quality across the Southeast. 

That said, I cannot be more proud of the latest report showing that farmers and growers in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) have reduced phosphorus by 68 percent this past year. This success is a result of the continued hard work and commitment of the farmers, growers and ranchers throughout the EAA, many of whom are part of the U.S. Sugar family.

This year’s phosphorus reduction brings farmers’ average annual reduction to 57 percent –more than double the 25 percent reduction required by law.

This data, compiled by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), showed that water flowing into the farming area from Lake Okeechobee averaged 156 parts per billion in phosphorus.  Thanks to on-farm water cleansing techniques, it was nearly twice as clean when we released it off our farms—at an average of only 85 parts per billion.

What these numbers mean is that our agricultural “Best Management Practices” (BMPs) that were developed through science and research projects with the University of Florida (and now put into practice every day on the farms) are working to clean water flowing south from our farms.

Farmers invest a great deal of time, effort and resources into on-farm BMPs. EAA farmers have invested more than $300 million toward restoration, which is the largest private investment in improving water quality in Florida.

And, we’re not stopping yet.  Farmers are always looking for ways to strengthen our efforts to protect and restore Florida’s water resources. State-of-the-art technologies used in precision farming, such as laser leveling, GPS guidance and pump calibration provide farmers even better ways to protect the environment.

In my mind, farmers are the original conservationists because they depend on healthy land to make their living. That’s not unique to Florida as farmers throughout the country are very proud of what they do and the food they grow. However, first and foremost, they must protect the land that they farm. 

Here at U.S. Sugar, we go above and beyond what is required of us to protect our environment because we live here.   Our land, water, air and natural resources are part of our legacy and our promise for the future.  One that I am proud to be part of today.  

Michael Ellis 
Vice President of Strategic Environmental Affairs

Michael Ellis currently serves as Vice President of Strategic Environmental Affairs at U.S Sugar. Mr. Ellis’ role includes working with other senior management personnel in developing and overseeing the company’s environmental responsibilities. 

Prior to his role at U.S. Sugar, Michael was appointed in 2016 by Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards to serve as Executive Director of the State’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), the single state entity authorized to develop, implement, and enforce a comprehensive master plan to address the land loss crisis along the coast and protect the citizens of the State of Louisiana.

U.S. Sugar is an American farming company, producing food for American families since 1931.  With state-of-the-art technology, U.S. Sugar practices the most sustainable, progressive and efficient farming techniques available in the world.  Full, vertical integration of its farming, hi-tech processing and packaging operations makes U.S. Sugar competitive while meeting the highest standards for worker safety, food quality and environmental protection.  With its headquarters in Clewiston, Florida, the Company farms over 230,000 acres of sugarcane, citrus, sweet corn, green beans and other fresh vegetables.  The company also owns/operates both an internal railroad and an industrial short-line railroad.  U.S. Sugar provides approximately 2500 jobs in the local communities.