By Blair Wickstrom
There’s no place like Florida. From our coastal estuaries to the Everglades and crystal-clear springs, Florida’s natural waters are a treasure. In fact, our backcountry creeks, streams, bays and ocean are the gifts that keep on giving. Without them, Florida would not lead the country in number of fishing days, dollars spent on fishing nor the number of registered boats.
Florida’s fishing, boating and marine industry is $10 billion strong and growing. Family fishing guide businesses, boat manufacturers and so many others are part of this longtime success story that sits at the heart of the truly unique Florida way of life. From flip-flops and Guy Harvey fishing shirts to don’t-tread-on-me independence, Florida is Florida and proudly flies the don’t mess with me flag on the sandbar on Saturdays. All this is inextricably linked to our world-class water resources.
But then you try and square that with the Sunshine State’s relationship with sugar production. It doesn’t make sense. Why are we continuing to let a small group of Washington, D.C., sugar lobbyists push us around and impose record high sugar costs on small businesses and families, all while jeopardizing our state’s natural heritage and outdoor economy?
Are we supposed to believe that giant sugar companies — unlike every other business in Florida — are only capable of making money when there’s a government program in place to control prices and restrict competition? Let’s finally do what we all know needs to be done and reform the federal sugar program.
Aside from the burden of high prices, Florida residents can see with their own eyes the consequences of having a federal sugar program on the books that hasn’t changed in 90 years. Toxic algal blooms and supercharged red tide events have become commonplace and jeopardize our way of life. Acute water quality and management challenges related to sugar production continue to damage the iconic Everglades wetlands ecosystem as well as coastal estuaries on both the southeast and southwest coasts of Florida.
Congress is facing a September 2023 deadline to reauthorize the farm bill, which is the vehicle for America’s many agriculture policies, including sugar policies. Those representing Florida in our nation’s capital should use the farm bill debate to push for sensible reforms that encourage sugar growers to modernize. Today, the sugar industry benefits from a complicated system of import restrictions, price guarantees and marketing rules administered by the federal government. Nothing like that exists for corn, wheat, soybeans or any other commodities that America produces in abundance. Even in partisan times, it should be an achievable first step for lawmakers to start treating sugar like the rest of the agriculture industry.
Let’s get sugar’s special deals out of Florida’s bloodstream. Let’s create a future that’s truly sweet for all Floridians, one that doesn’t involve allowing sugar companies to write their own rules.
Please reach out to your community’s representative in the House and Florida’s two senators and ask for their vote to use the 2023 farm bill to make sure the sugar industry is treated like every other agricultural sector in the nation.
Blair Wickstrom of Stuart is senior editor of Florida Sportsman Magazine and a board member of Friends of the Everglades and VoteWater. This opinion piece was originally published by the Sun Sentinel, which is a media partner of The Invading Sea.