Agriculture and Environment: Sugarcane

Better Management Practices: Reduce Nutrient Loading & Water Pollution

In some areas, progress has been made in reducing the water pollution from sugarcane production.

As a result of a lawsuit, the Everglades Forever Act was created to require the state of Florida to build the world's largest system of artificial marshes to act as biological filters (biofilters) to remove nutrients in runoff entering the Everglades.

Reduction in phosphorus content
In addition, the sugar industry was required to reduce the phosphorus content of its effluent by 25%. Over the past 6 years, the industry has actually reduced the phosphorus in its effluent by more than 56% (Grunwald 2002).

Companies were able to achieve these results by reducing their overall use of fertilisers, using retention basins to hold water longer on the properties, and cleaning their ditches and canals more often.

In 2001, phosphorus levels in farm effluent were 64 parts per billion. This level was reduced to 30 parts per billion after the water left the constructed biofilters.

While this is a good start, and well below the concentrations of 400 parts per billion in Miami tap water, most scientists agree that levels in the Everglades need to be reduced to 10 parts per billion or less if the ecosystem is to recover (Grunwald 2002).

Is enough being done?
While it is clear that the sugar companies are working to reduce their impacts, many still question whether it is enough. The industry, for example, is paying only one third of the cost of creating the artificial wetland biofilters.

Instead of funding the cleanup, the industry spent $30 million to fight a proposal of taxing sugar $0.01 per pound to pay for the cleanup. There are now plans for the government to buy and retire 24,000 hectares of sugarcane land (Grunwald 2002).


Extracts from "World Agriculture & Environment" by Jason Clay - buy the book online from Island Press

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