Florida’s farmers are safeguarding the environment as we provide families food | Opinion

Ardis Hammock
·3 min read

Even as we all struggle with a pandemic and tough economic times, particularly for tourism, agriculture continues to provide food, jobs and economic activity for our state and South Florida. After all, agriculture is America’s heartbeat. That’s why I found the Oct. 25 Grist story “Up In Smoke,” to be misleading about the safe, prescribed burns we use as a part of the sugarcane harvesting process and farmers’ commitments to the land and our communities.

For more than a century, my family has been farming fields around Lake Okeechobee, where we raise crops in one of the most fertile and productive regions in the world. Being blessed with rich soil and climate, Glades farmers are committed stewards of our natural resources, the next generation and our community stakeholders. Our livelihood depends on us having clean water, clean air and healthy soils to grow the crops that fill supermarket shelves. Our commitment is personal. We are not, and would not, harm our children or neighbors with our farming practices.

Florida’s sugarcane farmers are committed to sustainable agriculture, investing in the latest technology, using cutting-edge, precision agriculture and “smart farming” methods. Far from using “archaic” or antiquated practices as critics say, our modern mechanical sugarcane and vegetable harvesters use the latest GPS, WiFi and AutoSteer technology to ensure the safest and best use of man and machine will produce safe, local crops and keep food costs low for consumers.

In addition to safely growing and harvesting crops, we also contribute to clean energy by using leftover bagasse, a byproduct of the sugarcane milling process, for electricity that fuels our sugar mills and 60,000 South Florida households.

We will continually improve our farming practices with a heavy reliance on science and data, particularly environmental data. Data from the 2019/2020 harvest season demonstrates that Glades communities — where we farm and live — has better air quality than our neighbors in West Palm Beach and the Miami area. Our farming community consistently had “good” air quality, representing the best standard from the EPA. Compared to West Palm Beach and Miami, our overall levels of fine particulate matter are lower, even during harvest season. This data shows our air quality is not affected by short, safe controlled pre-harvest sugarcane burns.

Along with other area growers, we’ve hosted at least 20,000 visitors during recent years to tour our fields and mills. They’ve seen firsthand the care and diligence we take when growing and harvesting crops.

Today’s lifestyles and work environments have moved people away from rural farming areas, and sometimes they aren’t sure what to believe about agriculture. We encourage you to check it out, look up the data, come see for yourselves.

At the end of the day, family farmers help other families have a safe, abundant supply of food on their tables every day. We’re providing good jobs for the folks in our community and being good stewards of the environment.

Ardis Hammock is with Frierson Farms, in Moore Haven.