Big Sugar vs. Small Farmers

There are many hardworking small and independent sugarcane farmers doing the best they can in Florida. However such farmers work within a system that is dictated by the sugar mill owners they sell their sugar to. For example most independent farmers do not own their own mechanical harvesters so they contract out harvesting to mill owners like US Sugar, Florida Crystals or the Sugarcane Growers Co-op collectively referred to as “Big Sugar,” leaving them with little to no control over how their sugarcane is harvested. Florida mill owners do not practice cane dry cleaning (practiced under many green harvesting regimes) to remove dirt and trash from sugar-bearing cane billets before they are sent to the mill. This makes green harvested sugarcane less desirable because added trash goes in with the billets that can reduce milling efficiency. This results in farmers having their pay reduced by the weight of the sugarcane trash brought to the sugar mill with their cane billets.

The true benefits from transitioning away from field burning to green harvesting can take years before higher yields and reduced chemical fertilizer and herbicide cost can be achieved. Not many small farmers can afford to bear the costs of transitioning their practices without outside financial support. This is why the transition to green harvesting has to be from the top down, driven by investment from US Sugar, Florida Crystals, and the Sugarcane Growers Co-op. The costs of that transition should not be borne by small farmers who are the least able to bear it.