October 1, 2019
Public Safety Comes First? Changes to Pre-Harvest Sugar Field Burning Fall Short
Belle Glade, FL — In response to Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried’s announcement of changes to the pre-harvest sugar field burning protocols, Patrick Ferguson, organizing representative for the Sierra Club Stop Pre-harvest Sugar Field Burning Campaign provided the following statement:
While we are pleased that Commissioner Fried stated that these changes are a first and not the last step, the announced modifications to the sugar field burning regulations will not stop the smoke and ash the residents in and around the Everglades Agricultural Area have been forced to endure. However, the announcements are a sign that the Stop the Burn activists who have been leading the fight since 2015 are on the right track. When FDACS announces a plan to phase out sugar field burning once and for all, and the switch to modern, sustainable green harvesting, we will celebrate.
There are five main takeaways:
- It is disingenuous to conflate pre-harvest burning with "prescribed burning." Agricultural burning used by sugar growers to decrease their harvesting costs cannot and must not be likened to the prescribed burning that keeps Florida wildlands healthy. To label pre-harvest sugar field burning as prescribed burning and a "sustainability tool" is to unapologetically proclaim that it is good for us and the environment. Nothing could be further from the truth.
- The announced "two field rule" that will provide an 80-acre buffer between burned sugar fields and wild lands makes it clear that FDACS understands that nearby flames are a danger to the wild environment. What is the disconnect that keeps the Department from seeing that nearby flames are also a danger to the human environment? Prohibiting pre-harvest burning around schools and homes should be the first phase of the transition toward green harvesting and a complete ban on pre-harvest sugar field burning.
- The discriminatory nature of the wind restrictions has not been eliminated. Neither the new weather/smoke modeling systems nor dispersion-related permitting will change the fact that Florida citizens in Pahokee, Belle Glade, South Bay, Indiantown, Clewiston and Ortona will continue to suffer the ash and smoke while those living in eastern Palm Beach County remain protected by wind direction-based permitting. The wind direction-based rules are inherently unjust, protecting the wealthier and whiter communities while literally choking the less affluent, more diverse neighborhoods with smoke, ash, and the concomitant health impacts.
- It is easy to say "public safety comes first," but until the people of Western Palm Beach, Martin, Hendry and Glades counties are protected from smoke and ash, it is not and cannot be a true statement.
- What is most noteworthy to our campaign, and most important for the sugar industry to hear and accept, is that FDACS is encouraging the move to green harvesting and is directing attention to the biomass industry. Green harvesting is the only way forward. It is the win-win-win solution that has already been proven sustainable, successful and profitable elsewhere. What is Florida waiting for?
Pre-harvest sugar field burning is an outdated, toxic, inherently unjust and entirely unneeded practice that the Florida sugar industry keeps and defends because no one in power has been willing to say no to them. Commissioner Fried has made a move in the right direction but it is nowhere close to being enough.