Judge closes book on case alleging harm from sugarcane burns in the Glades

sugar farm field on sunset time
The plaintiffs agreed to drop the case Friday.

A judge dismissed a case Friday alleging Glades residents are being harmed by pollution from controlled sugarcane burns.

The plaintiffs agreed to dismiss the case with prejudice, which would bar them from refiling the lawsuit.

“As sugarcane farmers have maintained from the start, the case against air quality in the farming region was without merit. We believed the science, data and regulations that support our work every day would show that the air quality in the Glades is ‘good’ — the highest quality under federal regulations,” said Judy Sanchez, U.S. Sugar’s Senior Director for Corporate Communications and Public Affairs.

“The plaintiffs are walking away from their case after U.S. Sugar recently released three years of air quality data and its second annual State of Our Air Report, which provided scientific, accurate, and actual air quality data from both publicly available monitors and a series of private monitors located throughout the farming communities. Every one of these monitors provided consistent data confirming the Glades air is safe, healthy and ‘good.’  This data also confirmed air quality in the Glades region meets all state and federal clean air standards.”

Sanchez argued the plaintiffs in the case failed to show sufficient evidence that the burns harmed members of nearby communities. A judge overseeing the case had previously dismissed the claims in 2020, saying “there is nothing in the amended complaint showing that each of the plaintiffs has been harmed by all of the defendants.”

The judge allowed plaintiffs to refile the case and produce that evidence, though later filings also were called into question. The suit, filed in June 2019, is now dead.

“Whether the issue is water, land, air or the allegation du jour, it is heartening to see that once again the facts overwhelmed false attacks against local farmers,” said Ardis Hammock, owner and operator of Frierson Farms and spokeswomen for Florida Sugarcane Farmers.

“As farmers, we depend upon science and facts to make decisions every day, and it has been clear to our local communities that the data would ultimately prevail regarding the clean air issue in the Glades. The accusations on air quality are just the latest failure in a long line of misinformation campaigns spread by anti-farming activists.”

Florida Politics has reached out to a firm representing the plaintiffs for comment and will update the piece if they reply.

Sugarcane burns are done to remove leafy material from the stalks before they are harvested and moved to a mill. The Florida Forest Service is tasked with regulating those burns. Permits only are issued if wind flow is not directing smoke to a community, which could cause the potential spread of harmful material.

A county-by-county analysis of air pollution done by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows counties where those fields are located are cleaner than the state average. And Sanchez also referenced a recent report backed by sugar farmers which confirmed state data showing evidence of clean air in the Glades.

“Throughout these continued attacks both in court and by well-funded outside activist groups coming into our cities, the people of the Glades communities have demonstrated unwavering support for our local farmers who live here, work here, and raise our children here,” Sanchez added.

“They understand that our farming practices are safe, environmentally sound and among the most advanced and heavily regulated in the nation.”

Florida Crystals also released a statement in response to plaintiffs agreeing to dismiss the case.

“As we have said from the start, the allegations were meritless. Contrary to their claims, air-quality monitoring conducted by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection consistently shows that the Glades farming region has some of the best air quality in the State of Florida — better than the state average, year after year,” the statement read.

“Florida Crystals’ team of scientists, engineers, agronomists and experts continually research and implement the latest innovative technologies in our mission to supply more U.S.-grown foods to feed a growing population while conserving natural resources and protecting the environment and our neighbors. Our commitment to sustainable, regenerative agriculture and being a responsible member of our communities is rooted in our heritage of generational family farming and guides our vision for the future.”

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One comment

  • tom palmer

    February 25, 2022 at 6:28 pm

    That still doesn’t answer the question of why burns are not allowed if the smoke threatens to drift toward Wellington’s polo fields. On most days the air quality in that part of Florida is probably pretty good. The only issue is the particulate deposition when the burns occur near residential areas.

Comments are closed.


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