How Big Sugar hides behind the small farmer

The counterattack was inevitable – and utterly predictable.

While the billionaire sugar barons haven’t deigned to comment on the “No Big Sugar Money” campaign which launched last week, they’ve sent their surrogates out to spin. Predictably, it’s been picked up by some corporate agribusiness-friendly outlets, as is the case with this piece.

In it, we learn that our campaign to curtail the political influence of Big Sugar campaign donations – which totals some $6 million to state candidates and their political committees this year alone – is actually a campaign against the little guy, “sugar farmers.”

Focusing their fire on U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, a longtime Big Sugar antagonist, these farmers said in a statement that the No Big Sugar Money campaign is “attacking hardworking Florida farmers who help feed our country” and “These attacks threaten to further outsource our domestic food supply and increase our reliance on foreign countries for food.”

Curtailing Big Sugar’s political influence will cause starvation?

Whatever. But notice how the framing throughout the piece consistently uses the term, “farmers.” Farmers want Lake Okeechobee held higher for water supply. Mast and environmentalists are at odds with “farmers.

As if the only thing going on south of the lake in the vast Everglades Agricultural Area is nothing but good, old-fashioned “farming.”

To be clear, our campaign has no quarrel with small farmers, country families working the land and carrying on the great American tradition of feeding those within and beyond our borders.

But do the billionaire sugar barons really fit that mold?

Take U.S. Sugar, reportedly the largest sugar company in the United States. According to research from the University of Florida, its annual revenues are estimated at nearly $604 million; and while it farms more than sugarcane, annual sugar operations revenue is estimated at $361.6 million – more than a third of a billion dollars.

Of the 700,000 acres in the Everglades Agricultural Area, sugarcane reportedly takes up about 440,000 acres – 63 percent of the total acreage.

In the EAA, U.S. Sugar acknowledges (in its recent lawsuit filed against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) that it owns and farms about 245,000 acres.

That is, this one company, U.S. Sugar, owns about 35% of the entire EAA.

“Small farmers?” Not quite.

Then there’s Florida Crystals, owned by the billionaire Fajul brothers. Via its website, the company acknowledges it farms 190,000 acres, almost exclusively in Palm Beach County.

That is, Florida Crystals owns 27% of all the land in the EAA.

Together, these two companies own and farm 435,000 acres – nearly two-thirds of the EAA’s 700,000 acres.

And the Fanjul brothers, owners of Florida Crystals, reportedly have a net worth of $8.2 billion.

We’re going to go out on a limb and say none of the “sugar farmers” quoted in any of these stories have anything close to that.

It’s politically useful to cultivate the falsehood that the EAA is comprised simply of small-town family farmers trying to eke out a living – rather than massive corporate agribusiness operations which drop millions on political campaigns to get their way in Tallahassee and Washington.

But don’t be fooled by Big Sugar’s attempt to hide behind the little guy.

And if you haven’t already done so, visit, sign the open letter – and demand change.