Maintaining agricultural land is one of the main ways to protect our future

Wilton Simpson, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM yesterday morning to talk about what’s been going on in the state.

The Department of Agriculture is seeking $300 million for the Rural and Family Lands Act. Governor Ron DeSantis vetoed about $100 million.

The Rural and Family Lands Act was put in place in 2001 and for 20 years, the legislature only appropriated $100 million from time to time for that program.

Simpson said, “When I was Senate president I was able to put $300 million into the program, which for the first time the program had enough resources to cast a much wider net. Earlier this year, we opened the program for new people to be taken into the program. We have about $1.7 billion worth of opportunities.”

Development rights of the land are purchased with the Rural and Family Lands Act.

Simpson explained, “So that those private landowners and farmers can maintain their land and own it in perpetuity. Their families, many of these are obviously generational family farmers, they’re going to continue to be generational family farms. It guarantees us adequate supply of farmland.”

The value to the taxpayers is quite extraordinary.

Simpson said, “If I come out and buy your land, I normally pay two to three times what I can buy your development rights from. So the taxpayer first of all has to pay two to three times as much money for buying land versus buying development rights. Problem number two, if I buy your land, I have to maintain it, so I have to go back to the legislature and get more dollars to come out and maintain those lands. If I leave it in private hands, it stays on the local tax roll, which means you’re supporting your local organizations, schools, sheriff’s. Plus that farmer is required to maintain those lands. So it’s a great bargain for the taxpayer and we always say the last crop we plant are houses. By having adequate funding in this program, we can make sure that we have plenty of farmland in perpetuity, and make sure that farmers are in private ownership, in charge of these lands. I think from a taxpayer perspective, it just doesn’t get a lot better than that.”

Will there be legislative support for the program in the next legislative session in January?

Simpson said, “There appears to be a lot of support from the legislature, as you know, the legislature last year even appropriated $100 million for the program. The governor did ultimately veto that that priority and he said, well, we had other dollars that we had available, from the previous year when I was Senate president. The truth is that we’re going to run out of those dollars before the end of the year. In one year we’ll have spent that $300 million. So we will be out of money for at least six or seven months, waiting on a new appropriation to come in, so I think it was lack of vision on his part. The legislature does have an appetite for this. It ties in perfectly obviously with the wildlife corridor.”

The wildlife corridor is best understood as all the places that are dark on a map of the state of Florida at night.

Simpson said, “Everywhere it’s dark on that map is where we recharge our aquifer. Animals traverse the state, but it’s also where we grow your food. So the Rural and Family Lands that we’re talking about is 99 percent within that wildlife corridor. So every time we do a transaction here, we’re not only saving agriculture, but we’re saving our water recharge area, we’re saving our wildlife corridor. It really ties in well with the long term health and benefits to the state of Florida.”

The state fair is a real joy.

Simpson said, “It’s really amazing. Very rarely do we get to talk about the assets there within the state, but the state fair, it’s not just the fairgrounds. When Hurricane Ian hit, this is where all of our first responders come together and put their camps together. So this is a major infrastructure piece of property for the entire state based on natural disasters or emergencies. Secondarily, our fair system throughout the state is about promoting agriculture. I have been to the state fair many times through my life, and I have watched commissioners come down the slide or be on the big wheel on opening day or flip the switch, turn the lights on. I was the president of our Pasco County Fair Board for the 12 years preceding going into the Florida Senate. I really enjoyed the fair. The biggest part of it is about educating children in agriculture, plant projects, animal projects, with your meats or dairy. There’s all types of rabbits, chickens, in the whole shows. It’s very important and educates our youth and gets the community connected with agriculture if you go there. We’re preparing for this year’s fair, which I believe is in February. It’s going to be a really good time.”

The Florida State Fair will be in Tampa on February 9 to 20 this year.

The governor’s office has also been very active in providing flights to get people out of Israel with the conflict going on currently in the Middle East.

Simpson said, “This is something that is very important. Being an ocean away, I visited Israel right before the pandemic. I went over with the governor and we were able to visit and we had a very good visit. We visited with Netanyahu, Bibi and we got a security briefing. It was a lifetime experience there. They had a tragedy as bad as our, some people would say, worse than our 9/11 based on the amount of deaths. If we had a comparable rate, it’d be like 40,000 Americans get slaughtered on one day. The Israeli people are about peace, are peace loving, they want to coexist with their neighbors. You have terrorist groups like Hamas or Hezbollah that are trying to just kill them for no other reason than they’re Jewish. It’s a beautiful country, great people. It’s been astonishing, by the way, the amount of anti semitism going on in our college and university system. You had men and women and children and grandmas and grandpas killed and brutally murdered and we have support like that around this country where we as a country should do anything we can to help the country of Israel get out of this issue. It’s going to be a long war. What’s amazing to me, I was proud that the governor was offering up having some flights come over and the Florida taxpayers paying for this thing. But the reality is if we had a competent President of the United States, you can have flights going back and forth every day bringing Americans home, the Biden administration has just been completely inept at this, talking about charging people and talking about a process. That process could have been started in a matter of days. We could have had Americans here. You can have multiple military airliners running and get these people home. It’s kind of amazing how our former military folks can go to a country like this and get some people out, but our federal government is fumbling around and not doing what I think is such an easy part of their jobs by evacuating Americans out of this war zone. Let me just remind everybody, the reason we are having to redeploy all of this equipment to Israel, is because Joe Biden has removed a lot of it under his administration, and he pulled back from Israel, because he’s trying to negotiate with Iran on another nuclear deal. I can’t wait for next year’s election to come. It’s a tragedy what is happening in Israel and the lack of American leadership. People ask why do we have China and Russia and Iran creating a war in the world? It’s because we have no leadership here. They recognize the fact that we don’t have leadership and they can negotiate their way for two or three years as they continue to try to take over the territories that they’re trying to take over, whether it’s Ukraine or Israel, or any of these things. Ronald Reagan, first president I could vote for said it very clearly. Why do you build a 600 ship Navy? So that you never have to use it. We have to lead the world through strength. I just pray for Israel, and I hope that we can survive another 13, 14 months of Joe Biden.”

There has also been 13 attacks on US troops in Syria and Iraq with no response to date.

Simpson said, “If you want to know what our foreign enemies think of us, think about that. We don’t even respond. I’m being sued right now as your Commissioner of Agriculture for not allowing the Chinese and Russians and Iranians to buy agricultural land here in the state of Florida. I worked with the legislature that last year, we got that done. I’m now being sued and Joe Biden’s administration is on the side of our enemies in that lawsuit. So think about that when we think about our president next year.”

A recent migrant landing in Florida found a number of people from China on the shores.

Simpson said, “We can pretend like China’s not our enemy, we can pretend like Russia is not, or Iran, we can try to do deals with them. The reality is, these countries only have disdain for the United States of America. We can do trade agreement that we have when we need to, we can do these types of things, but as we do those negotiations, you always have to remember this is your foreign enemy that would prefer you not to exist. I was very proud of our legislature last year when we got that bill passed. The United States of America is a net importer of food today. Now let’s get into another situation of a worldwide pandemic or a war and those same foreign enemies cut your food supply off. Food is a national security issue. We cannot survive without making our own food production. That’s why I’m so passionate about the program’s like Rural and Family Lands that will make sure that in perpetuity, we have land to grow our food. It’s a shame the lack of leadership that we’ve had in this world, the last three years have been from the United States perspective. I’m just hopeful that next year voters will remember that when they go to the polls,”

A number of protests have cropped up over college campuses in support of Palestine.

Simpson said, “I cannot imagine a protest in favor of Palestinians here. On 9/11 can you imagine the next day someone coming out in favor of the groups that run those planes into our buildings and killed all those Americans? It took us a many years and many lives to bring a lot of people to justice from that event. Initially the instinct is to go in there and Netanyahu has said this, we have to eliminate Hamas and maybe some of the other groups in the area and this may get into Iran. If we do not eliminate this threat, exterminate this threat, 20 years from now, 10 years from now Iran is going to have a nuclear bomb, at a minimum a dirty bomb. Iran if they had it today would fly it right over Israel and let it go. In other words, they wouldn’t bomb Israel today, into the Stone Age, if they had the ability to do it. They will have the ability in another 15 or 20 years. So if America does not do the right thing and show the right leadership here, you will have people in this world with weapons of mass destruction, and they will be able to take out our allies around the world. Not only that, with our porous border on our southern border, they’ll be able to bring those bombs into the United States, a dirty bomb at a minimum, and be able to set those off in one of our larger cities and could kill tens of thousands of Americans. All along, we have a federal government, that is just more concerned with politically correctness and their view of that than protecting Americans. The number one job of the federal government should be to protect Americans. We’re having hundreds of thousands of Americans a year die a year from fentanyl coming across our southern border, all of the gangs that are coming across. We act like we don’t know it, we are just pretending like it’s not happening. This is about protecting our country, from what is really an invasion. If over 2 million people a year are coming into your country illegally and we know in the last few years, there’s been over 200 off the wanted terrorists list, that is a serious threat to our national security. This is tragic. One day, they’re going to pop up and there’s going to be a terrorist event. It’s going to be tracked back to there and then we’ll do something about it. Maybe. If Joe Biden’s president, I’m not sure we would then. We’ve done nothing. If President Trump were president, again, within just a few minutes of him taking office, these plans would be reversed and within a week, you’d have a completely different border strategy and within a few years, obviously, we would be undertaking a very serious wall exercise. President Trump had a very good border policy. I do believe ultimately, we’re going to have a tragedy. Think about what country would we allow to import to kill 100,000 Americans a year and not do something about it? Not declare a state of emergency and seal off that border? There’s nobody we would do that with and I’m not sure this registers with this president because he clearly turns a blind eye to this situation and his words for Israel’s have sometimes been effective, but his actions are pathetic. So that’s the situation we’re in.”

The future of the world is important.

Simpson said, “Every day, that’s exactly what I’m thinking about. I have grandkids and children and what a tragic place for us to find ourselves in at this time. But you know what? America is still the best country in the world. But if we don’t start taking some serious action to protect America and our families and our way of life, it can be one generation, it can be lost. We wake up every day fighting that battle and I’m proud to be in this position.”