Jonathan Allen of R.C. Hatton Farms is shown here in an EAA cabbage field. Cabbage is one of the many winter vegetables produced here.
The proposed acquisition of 60,000 acres of productive farmland in the Everglades Agricultural Area would have devastating effects on the economy, resulting in $695 million in negative economic impacts statewide, including the loss of 4,148 jobs, a report issued Thursday estimates.
Palm Beach and Hendry counties, especially the municipalities of Belle Glade, Pahokee and Clewiston, would bear the brunt of the negative impact, with 59 percent of it, or $413 million falling on the two agricultural giant counties the report finds.
Palm Beach and Hendry would lose 1,862 jobs across eight sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing and retail if the proposal for the state to purchase the land and flood it were to become a reality.
Thereporttitled “$ticker $Shock: Examining the Economic Impacts of Land Acquisition in the EAA, was released by Antonio Villamil, founder and principal of the Washington Economics Group, Coral Gables, along with the James Madison Institute, a Tallahassee-based public policy group.
Sens. JoeNegron, R-Stuart, and Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, are moving forward with a $2.4 billion plan outlined in SB 10 to buy60,000acresof farmland for a water reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee in hopes of solving problems in the coastal estuaries to the north. They contend that the reservoirs will help solve pollution and toxic algae problems in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.
If there aren’t enough willing land sellers, then the bill calls for buying 153,000acresof land from U.S. Sugar Corp. under an option entered into in 2010.
The land currently produces a variety of crops including sugar cane, sweet corn, celery, rice, radishes and green beans.
The EAA encompasses roughly 700,000 acres in four counties, and more than 400,000 acres of it are in Palm Beach County.
The value of Palm Beach County’s agricultural products is about $1 billion a year, with Hendry County accounting for an additional $500 million, U.S Department of Agriculture data indicates.
Landowners in the EAA have publicly stated and notified legislators that they are not willing to sell their property. In January they formed EAA Farmers, a nonprofit coalition of 60 farmers, landowners and businesses who say further land purchases in the EAA would put small farmers out of business.
EAA Farmers asserts that the reservoir plan is not science-based, and that state and federal projects that are already approved, such as the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, should be pursued.