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The Campaign to Stop Pre-Harvest Sugarcane Field Burning

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Remi Jouan [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)]

Sugarcane farmers in Florida have historically burned their fields prior to harvest. This pre-harvest burning removes the leaves and tops, making harvesting and processing easier. Growers also says that the burning reduces the need for applications of pesticides. But, the smoke and ash created by the burning emit pollutants that can pose threats to health.

On today’s show we’re going to learn about the practice of pre-harvest sugarcane burning, and a campaign by the Sierra Club to convince Florida growers to switch to what’s known as green harvesting, which does not require burning. And, which has become increasingly common in other parts of the world. We're joined by Patrick Ferguson, he is heading up the Sierra Club’s campaign.

 

And, while this ‘Stop Sugar Field Burning Campaign’ has been around for about four years, there is now also a federal class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of people who may be negatively affected by sugar companies that conduct widespread sugarcane pre-harvest burns.

 

We did reach out to U.S. Sugar to get its perspective on the issue of pre-harvest burning, and whether they are considering moving to green harvesting. They declined an interview, but did email this statement about the federal class-action lawsuit that’s been filed over health effects of cane field burns:

 

“We are American farmers and stand behind the safety and integrity of our farming practices, which are highly regulated and legally permitted on a daily basis by the government.  Our farming practices are safe, environmentally sound, highly regulated and closely monitored. Beyond that, we live in these Glades communities and raise our families here – our children and grandchildren – in the neighborhoods, schools and churches throughout these small, close-knit farming towns.  Fortunately, decades of independent air quality monitoring and data show that our communities, along with our counties of Palm Beach, Hendry and Glades, have some of the best air quality in the entire state, better than the state average, year after year.  Lastly, while seeming to be done on behalf of our communities, this lawsuit actually attacks the very farming that supports all the jobs in our communities.  The health, safety and jobs of our communities all are vitally important to U.S. Sugar.”

Mike Kiniry is producer of Gulf Coast Live, and co-creator and host of the WGCU podcast Three Song Stories: Biography Through Music. He first joined the WGCU team in the summer of 2003 as an intern while studying Communication at Florida Gulf Coast University. 
Julie Glenn is the News Director and the host of Gulf Coast Live. She joined the WGCU team in November of 2016 to expand the Gulf Coast Live call-in radio show from once a week to five days a week.  Since then, the show has been recognized in state and regional competitions and has featured artists, political leaders, historians, environmental experts, doctors, local reporters, and national and international scholars. After leading the station's award-winning coverage of Hurricane Irma in September of 2017, Julie was named Interim News Director. In January of 2018, she launched WGCU's first podcast: Grape Minds.