Kevin Rader: You don’t have to be anti-farmer to be pro-environment

sugar farm field on sunset time
There is little room for balance seen on an issue as important as the environment.

Politics at its core is about compromise. Something that seems to have been lost more than ever in the politics we have seen in the last few years.

Progressives, like myself, like to think we are better at it than our counterparts on the other side of the aisle, and, for the most part, I think we are.

That is why it pains me to see when there is little room for balance seen on an issue as important as the environment.

One of the rare bipartisan votes to come out of the legislature this past session was on Senate Bill 88, which modernizes Florida’s “Right to Farm” laws. In fact, it was overwhelmingly bipartisan.

Most of my former Democratic colleagues — all solidly pro-environment and most very progressive legislators — voted for this bill because protecting farmers and being pro-environment are not incompatible.

But you would not know it from the outcry heard from the Everglades Foundation syndicates: The Everglades Trust, Sierra Club, Friends of the Everglades, Captains for Clean Water, Stop the Burn Campaign, and other groups that take the Foundation’s millions of dollars annually.

Are these groups really trying to make us believe that all these legislators are anti-environment? Are they all anti-Everglades? Of course not.

Too often when I was in the Legislature their environmental solution was to undermine farmers — including a plan to take 60,000 acres of farmland out of production in 2017. It started to feel that shutting down farming was their sole purpose and not protecting the environment.

Many Democrats do not think farming and the environment are incompatible.

We would have loved to see them speak up on other environmental issues as well, but it seems it was always about going after farmers for them. They largely ignored the proposed toll road. They are ignoring the ongoing issue involving waste from cruise ships in South Florida.

They all but dismiss concern over the state’s millions of septic tanks and leaky sewer systems. They have remained silent despite a mall being planned right in the Everglades!

And perhaps most egregiously, they have all but advocated for the death and destruction of the Cape Sabal Seaside Sparrow in the Everglades because inconveniently, protections for the bird conflict with their stated goal of flooding farm fields (completely disregarding the surrounding minority communities) and “sending water south.”

In the case of last Thursday’s signing of this bill by the Governor, I fear they laid bare their motives as many of these Everglades Foundation-funded organizations were wielded as weapons to attack the Governor they once hailed as a “modern-day Teddy Roosevelt.”

He, too, had now failed their test.

Gov. Ron DeSantis should have seen this coming. Last year, the same organizations attempted to take out rank-and-file Republicans and Democrats in House and Senate races around the state.

Single-mindedly, the Everglades Trust, the political arm of the Everglades Foundation, spent millions trying to make every campaign they engaged in about South Florida farmers. The result? They did not prevail in a single competitive race.

They also went after the Legislature’s implementation of Governor DeSantis’ Blue-Green Algae Task Force recommendations because they did not think they went far enough to hurt farmers.

For as much time and money as they spend lobbying (supposedly, they employed five lobbyists against the Right to Farm Act), they have failed to learn that the game of politics is a give and take. One side gets some of what they want while the other side gets some of what they want. That is the core of politics.

That is how things get done and that is how both farmers and the environment can live together.

In the end, Gov. DeSantis sided with the vast majority of Republicans AND Democrats in the Florida Legislature, who like a majority of Floridians, appreciate the contributions farmers make to our state and our nation.

But in the process, the Governor also found out how inflexible and uncompromising some in Florida’s “environmental” community really can be.


Kevin Rader served from 2008 to 2010 and 2012 to 2016 in the Florida House. From 2016 to 2020, he served in the Florida Senate.

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One comment

  • Jim Tatum

    May 13, 2021 at 7:48 am

    Mr. Rader has no grasp of the environmental problems of Florida. He needs to learn about the pollution situation and who wants to stop it and who doesn’t. Excessive fertilizer and over-pumping are the main issues along with too many septic tanks. Environmentalists do not want to stop farmers but we want to work with them to limit fertilizer and over-pumping. We must help subsidize them and all help share the costs which will come from less fertilizer and water withdrawals.

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