Glades farmers committed to community and environment

*Note, the Palm Beach Post refused to run our response as submitted.

Glades farmers may be a small percentage of the county population but they help ensure our country and its families have food on the table. In the rural farming region, our farmers play an even more important role as a critical community partner.

In a 7,000-plus word story published in the Post last Sunday, an article on sugarcane harvesting practices ran with little input from its main subject – farmers.  Absent from pages of this year-long investigation were interviews with family sugarcane farmers, mechanics, mill workers, scientists, engineers and community leaders that did not fit what some would say was a predetermined narrative. All of us live in this community and among the fertile farmlands and sugarcane fields, yet this story was only interested in what a handful of Glades residents had to say.

While U.S. Sugar was contacted one week before the “deadline,” we’ve since learned that the story had already been written before we were asked for comment. A one-year investigation into the practices we deploy in our harvesting process – and the subject is asked to weigh in after the story is written?

As farmers, we rely on clean land, water and air for the health of our families and our crops. That commitment to ensuring the land we work is kept safe and healthy is often a multi-generational one — even for larger organizations like ours that have been farming this land for 90 years.

Contrary to what was reported, during the sugarcane harvest season, the surrounding counties do not show increases in hospital visits for respiratory issues. The latest data from the Department of Health shows that Hendry, Glades and Palm Beach counties are below the Florida state average for lifetime adolescent asthma.

In addition to public health data, farmers rely on decades of science and regulation set at the federal and state levels. Recent coverage disputed the EPA’s 24-hour standard for PM 2.5 without explaining why this time interval was chosen rather than the 10-minute intervals the authors preferred.

In 1997, the EPA evaluated hundreds of scientific studies to set the 24-hour standard for PM 2.5 (particulates). The 24-hour standard takes into account one of the greatest contributors to PM 2.5: automobiles. A 10-minute interval could create clear problems with readings that could spike if an idling car/truck is near a monitor for a few minutes. Or, here in a rural area, field dust being kicked up momentarily.

Over the past few years, sugarcane farmers placed professional-grade air monitors in several farming communities. That data, which we provided to The Post, was consistent with the data collected by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection-approved monitoring station. Importantly, all three data sets, including the one The Post procured, confirmed that the air in Glades farming communities is safe and considered “good” by EPA standards—the best category within the Air Quality Index.

Like other regions The Post cites, Florida farmers already mechanically harvest our crops and are continually improving our agricultural practices based on the best science and technology available. When Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried enhanced Florida’s agricultural burn program in 2019/2020, farmers agreed. These enhancements are blind to socioeconomic status and ensure every community is equally protected. Suggesting otherwise is disingenuous.

Farmers respect our neighbors by treating them with honesty, fairness, and a commitment to the environment we all share by ensuring that our farming operations follow the best available scientific guidance and strictest regulations.

Unfortunately, this same level of respect was not displayed in the story as most of these facts and voices were ignored.  To understand why, The Post should be transparent with readers and disclose to them the full proposal and application it submitted to ProPublica to secure outside funding for this story.

Our Commitment to our Home, Our Community, Our Future

Over the last year, we’ve seen the importance of community stewardship and the resiliency of communities throughout the country/world more than ever. A primary pillar of that community stewardship is commitment; a steadfast commitment to the women, men, and children who work, live, and grow up in the communities around you. U.S. Sugar’s commitment is a fundamental component of everything that we do, grow, or give back to the Glades’ communities, and beyond.

Unfortunately, the Palm Beach Post’s decision to print a story on July 8 regarding sugarcane farmers, fell far short of the level of honesty and commitment we have for our community. The story was a result of a paid partnership with ProPublica, the same activist, agenda-driven, online-only website that recently illegally published personal IRS tax information. The story selectively used data, studies, and experts that advanced the original, pre-determined thesis of the story effort – which was to put an end to the safe, highly regulated controlled pre-harvest burning practice.

What the story, Palm Beach Post, or ProPublica fail to mention is that the purpose and conclusion of this article was written well before these news outlets even began their reporting. The Palm Beach Post submitted a proposal to ProPublica applying for funding for this reporting which included an objective and conclusion – a proposal and application that both news outlets have failed to disclose to their readers. As result, ProPublica (which is privately funded and only selectively discloses their donors) paid Palm Beach Post $75,000 to have this story written and published in their paper – which masks who stood to gain the most from the article.

For the sake of transparency, the Palm Beach Post should release the proposal to show the true intentions of this “investigation.” A failure to do so continues to do a disservice to the communities around us.

Despite a year-long opportunity to learn more about the farming industry and community—which never stopped doing their part to make sure food was put on American families’ tables—the writer only reached out to the industry one week before the story’s deadline. Even after providing the Palm Beach Post and ProPublica with years’ worth of data from professional air monitoring stations in the Glades communities showing good, safe air quality, the outlets still decided to publish the work riddled with points and statements that lack context and are fundamentally false. And, for a year-long story about an entire region of farming communities, these “investigative reporters” actually spoke to very few people in the communities and only included those who supported their negative views.

The story also calls into question the authority and trust of publicly available data that is collected by local health departments and Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection. Now, more than ever in recent history, the trust and effort of our public health officials is of critical importance—and to call that into question with no underlying facts does a disserve to the community supposedly served by the Palm Beach Post. It is no surprised that you are already seeing a carefully orchestrated campaign of email blasts, social media pieces and will likely see letters, opinion pieces by paid activist throughout Florida telling you how “shocking” the story published in the Palm Beach Post is and that the findings should warrant change.

Not surprisingly, the Palm Beach Post story relies on data from amateur-grade air monitors they stuck in a Pahokee resident’s yard, not professionally set up or following the protocols outlined by the EPA. While they criticized state-provided monitoring in some detail, they failed to provide context or even an understanding of the topic for their own foray into air monitoring. A diesel truck going by, lawnmowers in the area, farm road activity, even a burst of plant pollen will result in short-term spikes in PM2.5 readings. Also, some of their reported spikes fall well outside of any sugarcane burn activities, which generally conclude by mid-afternoon. Anyone who knows the farming community, knows that controlled pre-harvest burns do not take place anywhere near 6PM in the evening.

Despite the activists’ paid coordinated efforts to the contrary, Palm Beach Post readers can take comfort in the fact that all public and private data (including the Palm Beach Posts’) ultimately provides the same results – that the air in our farming communities is safe, clean, and healthy. The same rings true for many of the surrounding urban areas. Our community of family and neighbors remain a priority each and every day. We live here, work and play here, and above all else, raise our families here. This is something that the Palm Beach Post and ProPublica reporters, the out-of-town activists, and others ignore in their attempts to twist the discussion of our farming communities and our quality of life. Why? Maybe because they simply do not understand,  choose to ignore facts, and mask their agenda-driven efforts behind a veil of “journalism.” These communities are the future of our business, our families and our communities, and most importantly, they are our home.

Rest assured, over the coming months we will undertake our own investigation to show the Glades’ communities the true intentions and motivations of stories like these. In the meantime, we invite you to see for yourself U.S. Sugar’s state-of-the-art operations and our commitment to the land, air, and community around; sign up for a tour