Sugar farmers say they’re being unfairly attacked for water quality issues in SWFL

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FILE Photo Aerial footage of Lake Okeechobee Aug. 13, 2018. Credit: WINK News.

US Sugar is speaking out after they say they’re being unfairly attacked for water quality issues in Southwest Florida.

Florida Gulf Coast University professor Dr. Bill Mitsch is doing an experiment to see if the Lake Okeechobee discharges are supercharging our red tide bloom.

Sugarcane farmer Ardis Hammock says it’s just another attempt to push the anti-farming agenda because there’s no research out there that shows direct correlation.

“We are all in this together,” Hammock said, “So why [Dr. Mitsch] thinks there some kind of smoking gun of what’s going on. I would like to look at what source is paying him to look at that issue.”

Dr. Tracy Fanara is a staff scientist at Mote Marine Laboratory and she says this experiment could help answer important questions, “If a bloom is close enough to shore, it very well can use surface water and nutrients to sustain.”

She goes on to say, “To what point is what we’re trying to figure out. I think that’s what he’s trying to find out which is a very good research question that should be answered.”

Dr. Fanara understands why Hammock feels the sugar industry is being attacked, she says there’s a laundry list of reasons to what causes our water quality issues.

Hammock can see where the conclusion comes from but think’s it’s unjustified, “Folks just look at us and say, ‘there’s a lot of acreage out here and you have water, you have farming, you are the culprit.’ There’s nothing further from the truth.”

Dr. Mitsch responded to these allegations in a statement sent to WINK News saying, “I believe circumstantial evidence exists to support a connection that fresh water discharges with nitrogen are capable of giving a booster shot to existing red tide blooms in the saltwater estuaries… Thats why were doing the study. Lets see what the science says.”

As for the funding of this study, an FGCU spokesperson told WINK the school is paying for it.

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