As a third-generation Glades area vegetable and sugarcane farmer, I feel compelled to share my view on the ill-conceived pitch to buy large swaths of land south of Lake Okeechobee in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) as the silver-bullet answer to estuary releases.
This proposal would take some of the country’s most fertile farmland out of production and provide little in terms of relief to the estuaries to the east and west of the lake. According to a University of Florida Water Institute report, 65-80 percent of all the freshwater hitting the estuaries are from their own basin — not Lake Okeechobee.
In addition to the sugar manufacturing facilities in the Glades, there are eight vegetable packing houses that would also be affected by a big land grab.
The human toll to the lakeside communities would be devastating. The Glades communities rely on agricultural companies like ours to help support local businesses and philanthropic activities that benefit schools, colleges, hospitals and the cultural arts.
Scooping up 60,000 acres of land in the EAA does not stop Lake Okeechobee discharges to the coastal estuaries. In a wet year like 2016, a 60,000-acre reservoir would only reduce Lake Okeechobee discharges 12 percent and discharges to the estuaries by six percent. Using the modeling developed to analyze various south-of-the-lake storage proposals, the reservoir would cost more than $4 billion. That’s hardly the big-fix solution many are seeking.
Buying land shouldn’t be a knee-jerk reaction to a complicated situation with no simple fixes. It needs the backing of scientists and the will of a diverse set of interests. We need to maintain our productive farmland to continue to provide safe and affordable food to a growing population. It’s prudent to stay the course and finish the water storage projects we have started.
John S. Hundley,
Vice president of Ag Operations,
Hundley Farms, Inc.