Sugarcane Burning Rules

Current sugarcane burning rules (as of February 2020)

Per FL statute section 590.02(10) The Florida Forest Service (FFS) under the control of the Department of Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) has the exclusive authority to require and issue agricultural burn permits. See here.

FFS has broad authority to set specific rules for specific type of burns via Florida Administrative Code 5I-2.006 Open Burning Allowed

Sugarcane burn zone map and rules prior to October 2019 modifications

The discriminatory burn regulations were put in place in 1991 in response to the public outcry generated by residents in the newly developed town of Wellington located in Central Palm Beach County. The wind-based sugar cane field burning regulations were put in place to spare the more affluent communities to the east but resulted in concentrating all of the burn pollution on the lower-income Glades communities to the west. News stories from that period can be found here and here.

Florida Forest Service Satellite Burn Map where sugarcane burns along with their smoke and ash plumes on any given day can be viewed.

As many as 70+ plus burn permits covering 5,000 acres impacting an area of up to 1500 square miles can be approved upon a single day during the harvesting season. In the 2018-2019 harvest season alone, 11,334 burns across 442,409 acres took place and only 3% of all sugarcane permits submitted were denied.

Environmental Justice

“Environmental Justice” refers to laws, policies, and corporate practices that allow for lower-income communities of color to be disproportionately impacted by toxic pollution. Environmental Justice promotes the principle that everyone has a right to a healthy environment along with equal protection and equal enforcement of environmental laws and regulations. The term also refers to the grassroots movement to address laws, policies, and corporate practices that disproportionately expose minority communities to environmental pollution around the world. To learn more about the Environmental Justice movement see here, here and here.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s environmental justice screening and mapping tool measures a population’s vulnerability to environmental factors such as air quality, cancer risk, respiratory health impacts, and lead paint exposure, based on the population’s percentage of low-income and minority residents.

The Glades rank on average in the 80 –100 percentile range in both cancer and respiratory health impacts vulnerability as compared to the EPA region, state, and nation as whole. The City of South Bay stands out as the most vulnerable communities in the nation with 99 percentile EJ index vulnerability in the NATA respiratory impacts category and a 98 percentile Ej index Cancer risk rating. This means that compared to other cities/census block groups in the nation only 1 to 2 percent respectively have an equal or higher Ej index vulnerability ranking in those categories:

Regional Air Quality Monitoring

Despite the wide array of air pollutants released from pre-harvest sugar burning there is currently only one official state-run air quality monitoring device located in the entire EAA which measures for only one pollutant PM2.5, and is registered as non-regulatory meaning it does not meet standards required for its data to be used to determine compliance with NAAQS. See page 20, table 4.2 here.

The accuracy of air quality monitoring devices can be affected by meteorological conditions that can prevent accurate readings to be measured from short-term fluctuations in air pollution caused by pre-harvest burning in the EAA during the harvesting season. Air quality ranking systems that rely on annual average PM2.5 measurements Such as Robert Wood Johnson Foundation rankings can miss important short-term fluctuations in air quality as exemplified by the pre-harvest sugar burning that takes place only on a seasonal basis. See measure limitations here.

For more information on the limitations of the current regional air quality monitoring in the glades along with known toxic pollution emitted by the practice see: “Burning Cane: Assessment of Current Air Quality Monitoring During Sugarcane Harvest in the EAA,”

Global Green Harvesting Trends

Brazil’s Green Protocol agreement began the phase-out of pre-harvest sugar field burning in the sugar growing region of Sao Paulo in 2007. As of 2020, all farms where mechanical harvesters can operate now green harvest. Phasing out pre-harvest sugar field burning prevented the emission of 9.91 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere and more than 59 million tons of pollutants, including carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and particles.

The transition to green harvesting in Brazil also reduced annual hospital admission rates for respiratory issues especially in individuals younger than 15 and older than 60. See here.

More general information on the Green Protocol:

Brazil sugarcane mills agree to end burning by 17

Brazil finds its sweet spot

The Green Cane Project is the world’s largest regenerative organic agricultural operation in the world; it supplies one-third of the world’s organic sugarcane supply on over 54,000 acres in Sao Paulo Brazil. The project was started by the Balbo Group, a family-run company operating under the Native Brand name. They started green harvesting in 1986 and have achieved the following accomplishments:
Achieved 20% higher yields than conventionally grown sugarcane

Created 11,400 acres of ‘Biodiversity Islands’, planted over 1 million trees, and have documented greater biodiversity over the surrounding area

A certified carbon neutral farming operation that generates enough electricity at their mills to provide power to a nearby city of over 540,000 people

Learn more about Native Brand and the Green Cane Project:

The Native Green Cane Project – The Ultimate Sustainability Story

The New Sustainability Champions

Stop The Burn Campaign goes to Brazil

Video: “Is this the Future of Global Food Systems?”

The Brazlian sugar industry utilizes sugarcane trash in generation of electricity and the production of biofuels. Sugarcane trash has (leaves and tops) have similar energy content to sugarcane bagasse, the bio-product left over after sugar is refined from cane stalks at the mill. In Brazil, they have shown utilizing sugarcane trash can produce nearly twice as much exportable electricity per ton of cane crushed, resulting in nearly twice as much displacement of fossil-fuel generated grid electricity:

Improving the sustainability of the Brazilian sugar cane industry

“Brazil-Energy Generation at Sugarcane Mills Using Trash and Bagasse: Project Identification Form-Sugarcane Renewable Electricity.“

Optimising Sugarcane Trash Management for Biofuels Production in Australia and Brazil

Use of sugarcane trash for solid biofuel production: physicochemical characterization and influence of storage time

2G ethanol from the whole sugarcane lignocellulosic biomass

In Australia, one of the world’s largest sugarcane exporting nations, the majority of sugarcane is green harvested. Rocky Point Mulching is a family-run farm and business that makes more money from their sugarcane trash than the sugarcane grown on their farms. Sugarcane trash is baled, bagged and sold as commercial mulch:

Turning cane trash into treasure

Australia’s sugarcane industry is also leading the way in developing new forms of sustainable biofuel from sugarcane trash, called biomethane, that can eliminate the use of fossil fuels on sugarcane farms by fueling trucks, harvesters, and tractors without the need of diesel fuel:

How a waste product from the sugar industry could soon power the trucks that carry it

In Zimbabwe, the company Green Fuel uses Brazilian-style green harvesting for biofuel production at their sugarcane mill:

Video of green harvesting operations in Zimbabwe

In Cuba, an estimated 70% of the sugarcane is green harvested:

Sugarcane Trash as Biomass Resource

In Thailand, the government announced plans to phase out sugarcane burning in August of 2019:

Industry Ministry plans end to sugarcane burning in three years:

The Indian Government has instituted laws and policy to end sugarcane burning:

Govt asks farmers to stop burning sugarcane thrash

Crop Residue Burning in India: Policy Challenges and Potential Solutions

Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has outlawed sugarcane burning and sets up machine banks for farmers to help facilitate green harvesting.

Indian start-up company RY Energies has developed a business whereby they collect sugarcane trash from farmers who receive proceeds from the selling the trash as biomass fuel energy production creating a win-win situation incentivizing green harvesting over pre-harvest burning

Sugarcane farmers in India have also began to recognize the benefits of using sugarcane trash as cattle feed:

Utilization of sugarcane trash for livestock feeding: An alternative to on-farm burning

In the Philippines research has shown Microcrystalline Cellulose can be derived from sugarcane trash for use as a disintegrant in medicine that works more efficiently than current commercial disintegrate in use. This same Microcrystalline Cellulose can be used in cosmetics and food products in addition to medicine.

Evaluation of Microcrystalline Cellulose Derived from Saccharum officinarum L. (Sugarcane) Leaves as a Disintegrant in Tablet Formulations

In order to be certified organic, the sugarcane must be sustainably green harvested. Some major organic sugarcane producing nations are Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Columbia, Ecuador, Mexico, Costa Rica, and India. There is even a small amount of roughly 4000 acres of green harvested organic sugarcane grown on a rotating basis by Florida Crystals in Florida.

USDA Organic Certification Standards 7 CFR 205.203 – Soil fertility and crop nutrient management practice standard (e)(3:)


In Louisiana a company called American Biocarbon partnered with the Cora Texas Sugar Mill in White Castle Louisiana to utilize green harvested sugarcane trash to create biocarbon pellets (biochar). These pellets are sold as a form of renewable biomass energy used for electricity generation. The Cora Texas Sugar Mill has installed a state of the art detrasher unit which cleans the cane billets prior to entering the mill and also separates and collects trash that is then used to produce biochar. The detrasher unit increases milling efficiency and reduces overall milling costs leading to higher profits. The same biochar can be used as organic fertilizer and as a water sorbent to remove heavy metals from water:

Adding Value to Sugar Crop Trash & Byproducts Detrasher unit.

Research on the state of the art detrashing unit and benefits of sugarcane trash and bagasse derived biochar carried out by the USDA Agricultural Research Service:

Developing Technologies that Enable Growth and Profitability in the Commercial Conversion of Sugarcane, Sweet Sorghum, and Energy Beets into Sugar, Advanced Biofuels, and bioproducts-Bridging Project

First year operation of a mechanical detrasher system at a Louisiana sugarcane factory

Improved sugar yields found by application of bagasse and leaf residue biochar as soil amendment

Effect of feed source and pyrolysis conditions on properties and metal sorption by sugarcane biochar

A company called US Envirofuels has a plan for a proposed Brazilian-style advanced biofuel ethanol plant fed by green harvested sugarcane and sorghum:

Highlands EnviroFuels, LLC Economic Impact Study for Sugar-Based Advanced Biofuel Ethanol Plant projected the creation of 60 full-time high paying permanent jobs and nearly 700 indirect and induced jobs.

CROPS Carbon Harvest is a company utilizing crop waste for deep ocean sequestration, providing an alternative for crop burning that can mitigate climate change and benefit farmers at the same time.

A company called Verde Visions LLC  seeks to utilize sugarcane trash in Florida to make biofuel based Very Low Sulfer Fuel Oil (VLSFO) which will provide a sustainable form of biodiesel fuel to help green the shipping industry

California Ethanol Power, LLC is planning to open a plant to produce sugarcane-derived electricity and ethanol from sugarcane grown in Imperial Valley, California where green harvested sugarcane trash would be used as either animal forage or further biofuel feedstock.

In 2018, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) awarded the University of Illinois a $10.6 million, five-year grant to the Renewable Oil Generated with Ultra-productive Energycane (ROGUE) research project to develop strains of sugarcane with up to 20% higher bio-available oils to use as a viable source of renewable bio-jet fuel. The “Energycane” produced would be green harvested to maximize the amounts of oil available for harvesting. The University of Florida is involved with growing the experimental strains of “EnergyCane” which could be grown and processed in Florida.

Federal Sugar Program

The Federal Sugar Program artificially props up the price of domestic sugar making it more expensive than what it is worth on the world market. This benefits the domestic sugar industry to the tune of $1.2 billion annually and costs taxpayers indirectly between $2-4 billion annually in addition to pushing food industry jobs overseas.

Analysis of the US sugar program

Candy‐​Coated Cartel: Time to Kill the U.S. Sugar Program

Sugar Shakedown: How Politicians Conspire with the Sugar Lobby to Defraud America’s Families

Heritage Foundation Backgrounder on the Federal Sugar Program

The Federal Sugar Program provides millions of dollars of windfall profits to Florida’s top sugar producers. These profits fuel the powerful sugar lobby which disproportionately influences our political system from the local to the federal level to further the sugar industry’s interests at the expense of the environment and general public welfare. In the 2016 election cycle alone, over $8 million of federal lobbying was spent by the sugarcane industry with over $2 million spent by Florida Crystals and over $1 million spent by US Sugar. From 1994-2016, US Sugar and Florida Crystals spent $57.8 million dollars on local and state elections alone.

Meet the Sugar Barons Who Used Both Sides of American Politics to Get Billions in Subsidies.