Sugarcane, Indians, and Roundup, Professor Geoffrey Norris, SLR/IRL

Today I share the second paper of guest, Geoffrey Norris Ph.D. I recently shared Blue-green algal blooms in the lakes, rivers, and marine waters of south Florida surrounding Lake Okeechobee.

I must admit, I hesitated publishing this second paper, “Sugarcane and Indians,”  as I  am sure some may interpret it as “politically incorrect.” I apologize to anyone who may, but I decided to print Dr Norris’ paper because the main message is important.

The message is:

“Is Sugar’s use of ripening stalks with “Roundup” feeding toxic algae blooms and why are lands/waters south of Lake Okeechobee “protected” while ours of the northern estuaries are not? “

You will learn something about this in Dr Norris’ paper below, and I thank him for sharing his work.

In closing, I believe we have something important to learn from history and the Native People of North America; I admire them. They are great warriors and respect Nature, the gift of our Creator. And in the case of the Miccosukee, they “never surrendered” and if I have anything to do with it, neither will we.



JTL 2015 Miccosukee Reservation, Tamiami Trail



This blog is the work and opinion of Professor Geoffrey Norris



Geoffrey Norris Ph.D. FRSC

..”In the 1960s, I lived and worked as a petroleum exploration geologist in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Subsequently, I spent almost 40 years at the University of Toronto in teaching and research in geology…A geologist by training, I have a specialized knowledge of fossil algae, their ecology, morphology, and distribution. I have published hundreds of scientific papers on fossil algae and related topics.”  ~Geoffrey Norris Ph.D.

unknown.jpgSugarcane and Indians

Executive summary

  • The area around Lake Okeechobee accounts for almost half the total production of sugarcane in the United States.
  • Sugarcane in south Florida is very needy of phosphorus and potassium fertilizers, but nitrogen fixed in the muck soils largely eliminates the need for extra nitrogen fertilizers.
  • Sugarcane also demands the use of the phosphorus-rich herbicide “Roundup” (glyphosate) several times each year. Firstly, in the fallow season (approximately May-September) to control weeds and allow the sugarcane underground rhizomes to regenerate.  Secondly, as the new shoots come through in the Fall to continue weed control.  Thirdly, during maturation and harvesting (October through March) glyphosate is applied to “chemically ripen” the sugarcane and improve sugar yields.
  • Land south of Lake Okeechobee could be used for storage and bio-cleansing of excess lake water. However, the 1997 water quality agreement between the Environmental Protection Agency and the Miccosukee Indians (aka Mikasuki, Miccosuki) states that phosphorus shall not be present in quantities greater than 10 parts per billion, and that no substance shall be present to stimulate algal growth and produce objectionable algal densities in the 300,000 acres of tribal lands in the Everglades south of Alligator Alley.
  • This legal agreement would suggest that Lake Okeechobee waters destined for southern storage must be cleaned to rigorous standards before discharge into southward flowing streams feeding the Everglades, at least near the Miccosukee tribal lands.
  • A case could be made for the sugar industry and related agriculture to “clean up its act” to mitigate the effects of heavy fertilizer and herbicide usage on the environment in general and on lake and stream waters in particular.

Sugarcane and Indians

First about nutrients and farm land and how much is planted in sugarcane.

Here are three maps that graphically answer the question about the extent of sugarcane plantations:unknown.jpg



A couple of years ago I had the opportunity the fly over the area south of Lake Okeechobee in a light plane at about 1000ft altitude.  The extent of the sugarcane is truly mind-boggling. Its plantations surround the entire southern perimeter of the Lake and reach to the horizon.  Smaller plantations occur elsewhere around the Lake.  It is a very big operation.

Now to the nutrients themselves.  I had a great deal of difficulty finding precise information on how much fertilizer is applied per unit area.  There were general articles that confirmed that sugarcane is very needy of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium fertilizers together with other elements. It is after all a giant grass, so just think how much stuff you have to put on your own lawn to make it grow green!  Apparently, in the south Florida area the need to apply nitrogen fertilizer to sugar cane is not so critical because the mucky soils generate their own nitrates through soil microbial activity.  However, phosphates must be applied as  fertilizer for sugarcane at various times of the year together with potassium etc.  But actual numbers were hard to come by, other than that sugarcane is voracious for fertilizers.  This is when I stumbled upon some marvellous work that the U.S. Geological Survey has been doing on the extent and the total quantitates of pesticides being applied to farmland across USA.  I used their maps of glyphosate (Roundup) as what I thought might be a reasonable proxy for phosphate fertilizer.  In other words, if you use Roundup as a weedkiller on crops, then very likely you will be using fertilizer as well.  It turns out I was right and I was wrong!  First take a look at this summary map for two separate years, 1992 being the earliest year available in this USGS study:

Details are difficult to see in these summary maps but the originals are much clearer.  The area around Lake Okeechobee was already in 1992 applying large amounts of glyphosate, and this intensified in succeeding years.  What I didn’t understand was why the sugarcane fields should be so needy of weedkiller – fertilizers OK, but why so much weedkiller?  It would seem that 25% of the cost of sugar production is due to heavy nutrient need (up to 75 lbs phosphate per acre, with 400,000 acres in sugarcane in south Florida).  But weedkiller.  Then I dug deeper following your email comments and found out why.  Indeed glyphosate is used at least three ways on sugarcane as follows:

Firstly, during the fallow season (approx. May-September 2016) following harvesting, glyphosate is applied to control weeds which would otherwise grow up and choke out the underground cane sugar rhizomes left in the ground to regenerate as the next crop.

Secondly, glyphosate application continues in different amounts as the new shoots come through in the Fall.  This is tricky because glyphosate kills just about anything that is green, but careful control can kill the young weeds while not harming – at least not very much – the young sugarcane shoots.  Other herbicides are also involved but glyphosate is the big one.

Thirdly, the sugarcane matures and is harvested in the winter months at various times from October through March.  During this time the stem of the sugarcane ripens and becomes rich in sugar (sucrose) prior to going to the mill.  Astonishingly (to me anyway) it has been found that about a month or two prior to harvesting, another application of glyphosate will help ripen and enrich the crop with significantly more sugar.  This process is called “chemical ripening”.  Other chemicals can be involved but glyphosate is a popular choice (it got cheaper once Monsanto’s patent expired in the year 2000).

So yes, I think cane sugar farming is being pursued intensively, but I’m not sure how it can be stopped.  Its effects on Lake O could be mitigated as discussed in my previous document but stopping an entire industry would be almost impossible to my mind.  Cleaning up the sugar industry might be a more realistic aim.
Change of land usage and water flow.

It would be nice to think that Lake Okeechobee water could be redirected southwards along its original historic course on its way to the Everglades.  Here’s a graphic of how things used to be:
For thousands of years, water drained from Lake O through a wide series of shallow tributaries and interconnected lakes to the Everglades.  It’s unlikely that this could be recreated but certainly use of land south of the Lake for water transport and storage and bio-cleansing of some sort or another would be an improvement.  However, it would seem that this is unlikely given the actions of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its agreement in 1997 re the  Clean Water Act with the Miccosukee Indians, a tribe which occupies part of the Everglades.

This agreement set out comprehensively water quality standards for the Tribes drinking water, wildlife habitat water, and recreational water (boating, swimming etc).  In particular, Section 3 reads:
SECTION 3. Tribal Water Quality Standards

The following minimum water quality criteria shall apply to all surface waters of the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida unless those water bodies are designated with higher or stricter water quality standards. Stricter standards for a given water body shall supersede these general Water Quality Standards. These standards shall provide a legal basis for including whole effluent toxicity requirements in all federally issued permits.

(there follows a list of 16 physical, biological, and toxicological conditions of which these two are particularly germane):

E. NUISANCE CONDITIONS: Plant nutrients or other substances stimulating algal growth, from other than natural causes, shall not be present in concentrations that produce objectionable algal densities or nuisance aquatic vegetation, or that result in a dominance of nuisance species instream, or that cause nuisance conditions in any other fashion. Phosphorus and nitrogen concentrations shall not be permitted to reach levels which result in man-induced eutrophication problems. Total phosphorus shall not exceed 10 parts per billion in Class III-A waters. In Class III-B waters, total phosphorous discharges shall not be made which result in undesirable aquatic life effects or which result in chronic or acute toxicity to aquatic life.

N. NUTRIENTS: In no case shall nutrient concentrations of Tribal Class I or Class III-A surface waters be altered so as to cause an imbalance in natural populations of aquatic flora or fauna. Total phosphorus concentrations shall not exceed 10 parts per billion in Class III-A waters. In Class III-B waters, nutrients shall not be discharged which result in undesirable aquatic life effects or which result in chronic or acute toxicity to aquatic life.

So what this and other sections of agreement mean is that nutrient-rich water from Lake Okeechobee must be cleaned to rigorous standards before discharge into southward flowing streams feeding the Everglades.  So bio-cleansing within the Everglades – or at least near the Miccosukee tribal lands (about 300,000 acres in the vicinity of the Tamiami Trail and Alligator Alley) is not a possibility within this legal framework.


However what’s good for the goose is surely good for the gander.  I looked into the history  of the Miccosukee Indians, and it would seem they are only fairly recent arrivals in Florida, arriving about the same time as Stuart was being settled.  The Miccosukee appear to have originated in what is now Georgia and then migrated south to north Florida where they became entwined with the Seminoles.  After the Seminole wars of the 19th century they migrated to central Florida in the late 1800’s and then decided to disentwine themselves from the Seminoles as a culturally distinct society.  They appear to have seen an opportunity during the construction of the Tamiami Trail in the first quarter of the 20th century and migrated further south and became embedded in the adjacent Everglades. First  Florida (1957) then federally (1962) they became recognized as a tribe distinct from the Seminoles.

Meanwhile in th early 20th century, as the migrant Miccosuki Indians were settling down in their new home in the Everglades as “Trail Indians”, Stuart was incorporated as a town (1914) then a city (1925) after being settled by migrant northerners about half a century earlier.  Total population of Stuart is now about 16,000.

640 migrant Indians – how many are fishing  and frogging?  16,000 migrant non-Indian northerners – how many lives and livings are being disrupted by ruined beaches and waterfronts?
the Indians pushed for a great deal from EPA and got it.  So now a total of about 640 Miccosukee (Mikasuki) Indians (some now  living in Miami-Dade and not the Everglades) can pursue their supposedly traditional way of life (fishing, frogging, subsistence agriculture) plus gaming resorts and casinos and tobacco shops – while many of the 151,000 citizens of Martin County are prevented from pursuing their traditional way of life.  Surely our waters (habitat, recreational, drinking) should be subject to the same rigorous standards as laid down by the EPA/Clean Water Act for the people living in the Everglades.

We are all equal – as George Orwell said – but some are more equal than others.  Well, so it seems.  What do you think?

River of Interest, ACOE, The Ultimate Hammer, chapter about the lawsuit

Alligators and Litigators: Keith Rizzardi

Previous blog post, Norris: Blue-green algal blooms in the lakes, rivers, and marine waters of south Florida surrounding Lake Okeechobee:

7 thoughts on “Sugarcane, Indians, and Roundup, Professor Geoffrey Norris, SLR/IRL

  1. The legacy of this blog could have been —-Lady comes back to hometown of Stuart and restores offshore fishing , inshore lagoon fishing , clams , oysters ,seagrass and marine life to how it was 200 years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I dont have much time now but the time I do have I throw macro algie up on coquina rocks that have been pulled out of the water to make sea walls. I use a pitch fork. When it rains the oxygen in rain water seems to speed up the chemical reaction between the algie and the calcium. The chemical reaction of decaying algie in the water is sped up from all the calcium peroxide and hydrogen peroxide flowing into the water. This macro algie builds up in pockets and fortuneatly they pulled coquina rocks out and made sea walls here instead of dragging them off . For miles along this shore there are now coquia formations trying to come back. The algie rolls up in shells and foams up in wave action.Whitout this cleaning action going on the lagoon will always be dead. The build up of ammonia and hydrocloric and carbonic acid will make sure of that.


  3. I wanted to share this comment by Mrs Maggy Hurchalla. Thank you Maggy.
    The Miccosukis were there before the Tamiami Trail was started. They did not come seeking opportunities next to the white man’s road.They were going where there wasn’t ANYONE.Buffallo Tiger told my mother that, when he was a boy, before they started building the Trail, he thought that if a white man say (maybe saw? JTL) him, he would die.


  4. Gosh so much good information. But I want to make sure I understand what he is saying about all of us being treated equally…..from his research is he saying that because of the agreement between the EPA and the tribe, that they have cleaner waters than the white people living south of the Lake?

    Liked by 1 person

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