By Sen. Ben Albritton
I have enormous respect for Congressman Francis Rooney and his life of public service. However, I have grave concerns about the congressman’s recent misinformed, inaccurate and hostile comments about agriculture in Florida.
Describing any sector of Florida agriculture as a “menace” clearly shows a lack of understanding of how agriculture has been a highly successful partner in solving water issues in Florida. Water is a complicated challenge and it is essential to understand the facts, rather than point fingers. “Menace” is defined as “something that threatens to cause evil, harm, injury, etc.” This is a strong word and dangerous dialog potentially leading Floridians to incorrectly believe that Florida agriculture is evil. Nothing could be further from the truth.
For perspective, consider these facts. Florida agriculture is made up of dozens of different crops including cattle, hay, sod, cotton, soybeans, peanuts, landscape nurseries, blueberries, eggplant, carrots, lettuce, potatoes, strawberries, cucumbers, snap beans, squash, citrus and the list goes on. Florida agriculture is far more diverse than just sugarcane, including within the Everglades Ag Area (EAA). Florida crops supply high-quality food to Americans. I’m proud of that, and you should be too.
Have you ever heard of the term “restoration strategies?” I would hope you have, but most Floridians have not. It’s a partnership that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the South Florida Water Management District and EAA growers are implementing to improve water quality in that region. Science shows us that it is working. Treating water on 57,000 acres south of Lake Okeechobee, phosphorus loads going into the Everglades has been reduced by 84 percent. Yes, 84 percent! No other state in the country has achieved these levels of nutrient reductions in any water body.
Additionally, agricultural producers throughout Florida utilize best management practices (BMPs), and this includes our most sensitive areas like the EAA. BMPs are science-based solutions that deliver real results. These BMPs have led to a meaningful reduction in nutrient loading in every corner of the state. Independent experts agree on this fact. Science is on our side, as we wait for “politics” to realize this and catch up.
Have you ever thought about how water flows in and out of Lake Okeechobee? More than 95 percent of the water that flows into Lake Okeechobee comes from the area north of the lake, beginning as far north as Orlando. Shouldn’t we focus on how to store, treat and manage that inflow water before the lake levels get too high and lead to releases that can harm our coastal communities? Storing water north of the lake makes sense too because it fits the natural flow patterns of the region. Let’s focus on solving the septic tank impact issues, urban nutrient runoff and sewage spills that impact our waterways, and stop carelessly pointing fingers at Florida agriculture.
When Congressman Rooney used the term “menace” to describe agriculture in the EAA, in my estimation, he is talking about every crop, every grower and every farming family in Florida. We growers have a great deal to be proud of in caring for our land and water, while feeding the world. We are all doing our part, if not more.
Water in Florida is a complicated issue, but demonizing the very people that responsibly grow our food is not a productive addition to the conversation. I would encourage you to always remember, “If you eat, you’re involved in agriculture.” Think about it…
Senator Albritton is a fourth-generation citrus grower and serves as the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and vice chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. His district encompasses DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands, Okeechobee and parts of Charlotte, Lee and Polk counties.
Source: Office of Senator Ben Albritton (R-District 26)
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