Tons of pure white crystal are loaded up and sent across America from this Palm Beach County region on the daily; but can you name the substance they’re producing?
Here’s a clue: Coffee and donuts just isn’t the same without it.
We’re talking about refined white cane sugar of course, and in Belle Glade, South Bay, Pahokee, and all around the south side of Lake Okeechobee, it’s the big business that helps propel one of America’s favorite commodities.
Florida sugarcane derived sugar accounts for a significant statistical percentage of the U.S. Sugar market. That’s about fifty percent of all sugarcane-based sugar production, and about twenty percent of all sugar in the USA.
It’s a pretty important piece of the pie in the State of Florida’s economy, and much of the growing takes place in the Everglades Agricultural Area south and west of Lake Okeechobee.
When the machinery is running full speed ahead, it’s quite a sight to behold, with the fields, refineries, and trucking all happening in full view of good old U.S. HWY 27, which conveniently runs all the way up to Indiana.
In fact, it’s happening right now, and the above video is proof. What you see is the smoke from the burning of a sugarcane field and the smoke from the U.S. Sugarcane Growers Cooperative of Florida burning the leftover cane material after the sugar has been extracted to power the factory. It’s called “bagasse” and it’s a cleaner alternative to coal.
But as jurisprudence will attest, the people who live, work, and go to school around it are tired of breathing in the smokey ash particulates that fall from the sky and that these area residents call “black snow.”
There’s smoke in the air just about every day of burning season, with hundreds of prescribed fires taking place throughout, and burns occurring on a regularly scheduled basis from October to May, unless it’s raining or there’s a big event. These fires send 12 – 16 mile plumes of ash and smoke into the air, land, and water in the area.
The fiery activity is all trackable on Florida Forest Service website, with whom all burns are legally registered.
There are lawsuits on the books, stories in the media, and environmentalists going mad about this and other issues related to the industry, but some of those issues have gone on for decades and some would say that little much has changed over the years.
The growers and refiners would argue that environmentalism is at the heart of what they do. And they have their own studies and statistics to back up their claims. They are also involved with various other efforts to clean and treat water in Stormwater Treatment Areas and other new water management systems. And they are or have been involved in major efforts to restore historic flows of fresh water across the Everglades.
It’s definitely a complex issue, but usually the arguments on either side involve lots of words and few visuals. So here are some documentary photos to help you understand what’s going on so that you can think and decide for yourself what it all means.