How the Sugar Industry Influenced Elections in South Florida

A recent election in South Florida has sparked controversy on the effects of sugarcane cultivation on surrounding communities. The controversy is rooted in a simple debate. Whether or not the traditional practice of sugar cane is worth polluting the air and harming the health of local residents. After 8,000 voters turned out in the election, proponents of protecting the sugar cane industry won.

After winning the election, several news publications spoke about the prevalence of an agricultural industry influencing an election with such force. This sparks a new conversation about the relationship between agricultural industries, the health and safety of surrounding communities, and growing political power of what is now called “Big Sugar”.

Lawmakers debate protecting the sugar cane industry

In Florida’s Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), more than 440,000 acres are used for the cultivation of sugar cane. Florida has played a leading role in the cultivation and processing of American sugar cane, having produced approximately 17.14 million tons in 2021 alone. The state of Florida continues to supply more than half of America’s sugar consumption. Which indicates that the nation depends on these farms for accessible sugar. One might speculate that this is why voters were swayed towards protecting the industry.

This election is so important because the outcome has a direct impact on the residents and surrounding communities. Those who are affected by these traditional methods of agriculture. Having the right equipment for harvesting is as essential as having good quality Bobcat Tracks to move and prepare the land. Technological and mechanical advances have made farming easier, safer and more environmentally friendly. However, some of the traditional sugarcane cultivation techniques have yet to catch up.

Sugarcane burns have long been the technique of choice for Florida sugar growers. The process involves setting fire to sections of sugarcane fields. This breaks down the tough exterior of the plant and makes sugar processing much easier and more affordable for farmers.

Avoid air pollution through safer cane burning

There are many valid reasons why some members of the local community opposed the vote on traditional sugarcane burnings. First, there is air pollution to consider – the ashes of the burnt sugar cane are blown down, descending on the surrounding areas in what the locals call “black snow”. This fine black ash settles both on the earth and in nearby lungs, causing respiratory problems, sinus problems and even asthma attacks.

The impact of inhaling black snow over a long period of time can be extremely damaging to the respiratory system. So much so that Florida health care providers say airway-related medical issues increase by 35% in major burns. But it is not only the human body that suffers from these burns. The environment is also negatively impacted by sugarcane burns. By releasing high levels of carbon dioxide, these burns poison the air and contribute to air pollution.

The story of the sugar cane controversy is far from sweet. Onlookers are watching with anticipation how long it will take this industry to find more sustainable farming and harvesting alternatives.

Rachel J. Bradford