For more than a century, farming has been the economic lifeblood for the rural communities south of Lake Okeechobee. Agriculture has always been a source of good, steady jobs for thousands of workers and their families in the area, and allowed our people to pursue the American Dream while also helping to feed Florida and our country.
But many of these jobs – and the farming way of life we love – are at serious risk as a result of Florida Senate President Joe Negron’s proposal to spend billions of dollars to buy up to 153,000 acres of farmland in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA).
As a representative of the machinists’ unions whose members earn a living working in agriculture in the Glades communities, we want the public to understand our concerns: Senate Bill 10 – which would authorize the land buy – is a job killer. It would put hard-working men and women on the unemployment line and is a real threat to the economic health of small employers and communities that depend on farming.
When Sen. Negron first announced his proposal to buy more farmland in the EAA, the Sugarcane Growers Cooperative of Florida warned it would cost an estimated 1,000 jobs and lead to the shutdown of another sugarcane mill in the region. This would be in addition to three other local mills that have closed in the last 20 years because of the loss of farmland to the government.
In fact, the James Madison Institute recently issued an economic study concluding the proposal would cost more than 4,100 jobs either directly associated with farming or sustained by it. The institute found total impact on household income would be a loss of $166 million – this is scary stuff for agricultural workers who are trying to put food on the table, provide a good education for their kids, and keep up with monthly payments on homes and cars. It’s also unnerving to the small Glades towns that already struggle with poverty and high unemployment.
Our machinists members are hard-working, dedicated and patriotic Americans who play by the rules, pay taxes and strive to provide for their families. Make no mistake – we’re as concerned about the environment as anyone in Florida. We aren’t scientists or economists, so we don’t have all the answers on how to fix the problem. But we do know there’s more than one way to skin an alligator, and we believe that you must protect jobs as well as the environment.
Farmers in the EAA have already contributed significantly to addressing the region’s water issues. To date, 120,000 acres of farmland south of the lake have been taken out of production and dedicated to restoration. Yet, we were surprised and angered to learn that the state isn’t even using all this land yet. Why buy more when there’s plenty of state-owned land to put to use?
Simply put, we don’t think the Negron plan is the answer and we strongly oppose SB 10. On behalf of the working people who make a living in farming and the Glades communities that are now threatened, we are asking legislators not to support this misguided bill. They should consider all the families and small towns that would suffer as a direct result of this purchase.
ROBERT MILLER, CLEWISTON
Editor’s note: Robert Miller is business representative for the Machinist Union.
To date, 120,000 acres of farmland south of the lake have been taken out of production and dedicated to restoration.