As the global community celebrates Earth Day April 22, farmers for America’s largest sugar producer are highlighting their role in safeguarding South Florida land and water resources.
Now in its 46th year, Earth Day is the largest secular observance on the planet, with more than 1 billion people observing a day of eco-friendly engagement and activism.
On Friday, U.S. Sugar joins in the Earth Day festivities by honoring a heritage of nearly 85 years of environmental stewardship.
“U.S. Sugar has been and remains partners in environmental restoration,’’ said Judy Sanchez, U.S. Sugar’s senior director of corporate communications and public affairs. “We don’t just talk about protecting the earth; we do it through science-based investments that will benefit the state for generations to come.’’
Throughout the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), U.S. Sugar and other farmers have employed various soil and water management techniques, ensuring the water leaving farms is cleaner than when it enters.
As a result, industry estimates show that over the past two decades, there has been an average 56 percent reduction in phosphorus flowing south. That number exceeds the 25 percent requirement set by the Everglades Forever Act of 1994. And in 2015, farmers in the EAA reached a milestone — 79 percent overall phosphorus reduction — the highest annual amount achieved to date.
In addition to water conservation, sugar farmers have also pioneered several advances in green energy.
One such example is bagasse, the fibrous byproduct created when the juice is extracted from sugar cane stalks which then is used as a clean-burning biofuel to power various sugar manufacturing facilities. An extensive railroad system also saves on diesel fuel, as well as minimize truck traffic, further reducing fossil fuel emissions.
These activities are among the reasons U.S. Sugar farms enjoy some of the best air quality in Florida.
U.S. Sugar’s 215,000 acres of farmland does double duty as a protected habitat for thousands of Florida birds and wildlife. And as an environmentally friendly product, sugar cane is one of the cleanest crops to produce, requiring a minimum amount of fertilizer and pesticide.
While Earth Day is a reason to celebrate, it is more than a single event; it is a philosophy of sound scientific and agricultural practices.
Joined by local farmers, U.S. Sugar has invested more than $400 million in restoring and preserving the fragile and unique Everglades ecosystem. In 2010, U.S. Sugar transferred 27,000 acres to the South Florida Water Management District, to be set aside for water storage, treatment and wetlands restoration.
“We’re proud of the fact that our farmers celebrate Earth Day every day by employing the best agricultural practices to protect the environment and produce the finest crops,’’ Sanchez said. “Ensuring healthy land, air and water is essential to our ability to produce food and provide jobs in our communities.’’