Farming has been my family’s business for many generations. My family began tilling the land in what is now Glades County back in 1918. For nearly 100 years we survived every type of disaster God and Mother Nature could throw at us -- hurricanes, the Great Depression, and family deaths. But now, in 2017, our family’s heritage and our way of life faces extinction.
The reason? Senate President Joe Negron’s plan to buy 60,000 acres of productive farmland in the Glades. President Negron’s plan puts communities and farmland in a perilous situation.
Recognizing these concerns, I traveled to Tallahassee recently to voice my concerns and watch the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation debate Senate Bill 10. Sadly, the bill was approved at its first committee stop. But the fight is far from over.
I proudly stand with members of the Glades communities who are organizing in opposition of SB 10. This bill will spend $3 billion to $4 billion or more of taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars on a plan that science shows will not even begin to halt discharges from Lake Okeechobee.
Under SB 10, the state would be authorized to negotiate the purchase of 60,000 acres of farmland in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA). According to the Sugarcane Growers Cooperative of Florida, there would be an estimated 1,000 jobs lost and another sugar mill would be forced to close its doors. If this land purchase falls through, SB 10 requires a second option of buying the vast majority of U.S. Sugar’s land in the EAA, resulting in the annihilation of the communities around the lake.
American jobs in sugarcane farming are increasingly threatened by competition from overseas. SB 10 would virtually guarantee that these jobs would be replaced by farmers in sugarcane-producing countries like Brazil, India, and China. At a time when America is in an economic battle against foreign competition on all fronts, we cannot afford to give up even one inch of our country’s share of farming to overseas markets. We should be bolstering our safe, affordable domestic food supply, not creating more instability and debt through ill-advised land buys.
At Frierson Farms, we are fighting for our survival because our farm is not for sale. The focus of solving Lake Okeechobee discharges should be based on sound science and not on false science. Why not stick to the current Everglades restoration plans already in place? The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) and the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) use a timeframe to allow projects to come online in the proper sequence while further evaluating future projects. Giving in to environmentalist elitism seeks to do more harm to the economy than to help the environment, and through their plan, there will be no real solution to curbing Lake Okeechobee discharges into the coastal estuaries any time soon.
The slogan of “buy the land and send the water south” is a sham that doesn’t solve any of the problems facing the Treasure Coast and Southwest Florida. How will more land south of Lake Okeechobee clean and store the excess water that is draining north of the lake? It makes no sense.
Being a generational farmer in Glades County, losing my farm would be devastating to my family’s legacy -- something there is no recovery from. I urge our local leaders to think about their local farmers who not only feed America, but also provide a foundation for a stable economy.
Ardis Hammock is a family member of Frierson Farms, Inc., a third-generation farm, founded in 1918. She lives in the Glades County city of Moore Haven.