Smoke Plume Looms Over Lake Okeechobee

Smoke plume seen from the South Bay Boat Ramp in the outer rim canal of Lake Okeechobee – ©Jacob Katel. All Rights Reserved

Blazing infernos in the sugarcane fields are an everyday occurrence in Palm Beach County, Florida. where U.S. Sugar farmers light these fires to decrease human labor and promote efficiency in their distribution chain. The fires effectively remove an outer layer of leaves from the cane and kill any little creatures living on the plant. Combined with ash and smoke this also enriches the mucky soil in the fields.

Transport trucks can also hold much more product to carry between the fields and processing plants when there are no leaves taking up space.

Sugarcane transport truck carrying product to the refinery – ©Jacob Katel. All Rights Reserved.

According to Palm Beach County, “Sugarcane is planted on approximately 440,000 acres in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), making it the most extensively grown row crop in Florida. Production is primarily on land along or near the southern half of Lake Okeechobee.”

There is a significant contingent of people living in the communities surrounded by these fires who experience negative health outcomes because of the process, and this has been true for generations.

There are also plenty of wealthy home and property owners who are sick of smoke and ashes all over their homes, cars, boats, and pools.

Some of the areas affected by the burning of the sugar cane fields include Belle Glade, South Bay, Okeelanta, Clewiston, Moore Haven, and Pahokee.

Smoke filled airs have affected schools as well as pedestrian and commercial activity throughout towns where rich people shop for goods and services.

To get an understanding of how many fires burn as part of these field operations, simply take a look at the class action law suit filed by attorneys Hagens Berman and Berman Law Group. A recent press release states that in 2019 there were, “7,891 fires set during the “burn season,” or approximately 43 fires each day. On some days, as many as 60 burns.”

These burns are registered with the government and can be pretty easily tracked on the Florida Fire Info Data Viewer.

The data shows that the sugar industry makes billions in Florida, and the cane fields obviously occupy far more land than anywhere that people live, but the fact remains there are more efficient ways to do business, especially since the role of big agriculture in pollution that affects the Florida waterways and coast lines costs us many billions more in the short, and in the long run.

There’s always more to know. Stay tuned.

By Jacob Katel

Diving into news about water.