In response to recent false claims made by Audubon Florida Executive Director Eric Draper about Florida’s sugarcane farmers, U.S. Sugar Senior Vice President for Corporate Strategy and Business Development Malcolm “Bubba” Wade, Jr. released the following statement:
“Mr. Draper is entitled to his own opinions, but not his own facts. In his recent Fort Myers News-Press column, he falsely claimed that sugarcane farmers are opposing water storage solutions south of Lake Okeechobee, when our company has not only supported scientifically and technically proven solutions, but also provided land for the storage, treatment and movement of water in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA).
In fact, the Stormwater Treatment Area 1W expansion is being constructed on land that was acquired through a land exchange made possible because of lands sold to the state by U.S. Sugar.
At no point has anyone representing U.S. Sugar ever said anything about opposing scientifically and technically proven storage projects throughout the Lake Okeechobee system. We have and continue to support the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), Restoration Strategies, the Modified Water Deliveries projects, and the South Florida Water Management District’s priority projects.
What we have said is that state scientists will not know how much additional storage will be needed until currently planned projects are built and operating.
This may be an inconvenient truth to activists whose mantra is ‘buy the land, send the water south,’ but the fact is, there are already 120,000 acres of formerly productive farmland that are now in public ownership for water storage and restoration efforts, and the use of these lands has not been maximized by the government yet.
Additionally, Mr. Draper completely disrespects Florida’s sugarcane farmers and ignores their hard work in significantly exceeding state water quality standards for 20 straight years. Draper claims that farmers ‘minimally comply’ with state standards. In fact, state data shows that last year, farmers achieved 79 percent in annual reductions of phosphorus in the water that flows off our farms.
This achievement continues a two-decade trend of farmers reducing phosphorus levels by an average of 56 percent annually – far exceeding state requirements.
In addition, Mr. Draper totally ignores the fact that over the last 20 years, the combination of BMP successes, the Stormwater Treatment Areas, and the Everglades Construction Project has resulted in more than 90 percent of the Everglades currently achieving the 10 parts per billion phosphorus standard. That is a huge success story and could hardly be consider ‘minimal’ compliance.
Despite efforts by Mr. Draper and like-minded critics to portray farmers as villains, the facts show our state’s sugarcane growers are on the front lines of Everglades restoration.
‘Buy the land, send the water south’ makes for a great bumper sticker slogan, but more than 25 years of expert opinion has shown the priority should continue to be building more storage and treatment in the northern, eastern and western parts of the lake.
We encourage the activists attacking our business to join us in being part of the solution. Instead of slinging mud, we welcome our critics to propose any ideas that are scientifically and technically proven and will stop the harmful discharges.”