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Drought-Damaged Florida Sugar Harvest Begins

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CLEWISTON (CBSMiami) – On the southern shores of Lake Okeechobee, an all out effort started Saturday to harvest one of the sweetest crops in the nation, as South Florida’s sugar cane harvest started. The round-the-clock effort has been affected by drought and last winter’s freezing temperatures.

The harvest, managed by US Sugar, is the largest sugar harvest in the United States. In the past, the cane was cut by thousands of workers imported from Jamaica specifically for the harvest, but in recent years new harvester machines have been able to eliminate a lot of the back breaking labor carried out in snake infested fields.

The cane will be harvested and taken to processing centers in the Clewiston area, where it will be converted into sugar. The harvesting and processing cycle runs 24 hours a day until the last cane has been harvested.

The company is forecasting a harvest of about 6.2 million tons of sugarcane at its plant on the southern edge of Lake Okeechobee.

A company spokeswoman says the crop has been hurt by drought over the summer, which was particularly severe in the Lake Okeechobee area. Last winter, the area was also affected by freezing winter temperatures just as the crop was beginning.

Florida’s sugar harvest crop is controversial for its effect on the everglades. Irrigation, mostly using water from Lake Okeechobee, is blamed for agricultural runoff which has an impact on the Everglades. Changes in the law have reduced the effect of that runoff in recent years, and a federalally funded program to help restore the Everglades is underway.

The sugar crop has dwindled in Florida in recent years, but the harvesting continues despite the fact foreign sugar is usually much cheaper than the US crop. Federal crop subsidies help make the US crop competitive, while keeping a major industry, and its jobs, in South Florida.

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