Our Commissioner of Agriculture had a great time in the Keys

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

Last week, Simpson was in the Florida Keys.

He said, “We first of all stopped and visited the mosquito control. Obviously when you have an area like the Keys you hope to eventually have better technology to eliminate things like dengue fever and things of that nature that is spread through mosquitoes. So we got caught up on some of that technology and took a look at that and the overall process of mosquito control on the Keys. Very robust board there. It seemed like a lot of great members, a lot very, very highly educated on the issues. That’s a great organization in the Keys. Then we went on down to Key West. Mayor Raschein was there, the sheriff, we met with him and many other elected officials. They are just looking at things of the upcoming legislative session, and to make sure we’re going to be involved to whether it’s funding of reefs or funding of any other funding needs that we would have to try to make sure that we’re stabilizing the Keys economy and making it more robust in the future. We always enjoy being in the Keys. This was I think, the third trip this year, but we really enjoyed it down there.”

The Oxitec program has been successfully utilized in the Keys and others are learning from it.

Simpson confirmed, “All over the world Oxitec is certainly on the cutting edge. They’ve had a three year permit, I believe to make sure that they can perfect their craft there. So we’re hopeful that that technology will prove out that it does the job that they believe it does, but they’re doing that all over the world, of course. The Keys are very unique. We also talked to Oxitec about potentially looking at HLB in citrus. Our citrus have been decimated by what we call greening. It’s HLB and we looked at can they develop a natural bug that will eat those psyllids or at least neutralize them. So I think that we’re going to try to use that technology in other spaces of agriculture and obviously, that’ll cut down on a lot of spraying, a lot of chemicals, a lot of the things that a lot of our citizens would love to see us not be doing. Of course, if you’re in agriculture, you have to do all of those things using best management practices and a lot of cases using AI to be very targeted these days. But if you had a natural predator, to these things where it was all organic, I think in the long run, that’ll be more palatable to our environment.”

Seeing how science can work for the benefit of agriculture is really fascinating.

Simpson said, “I’ll give you an example in history. So in the egg business, if you go back to the 1980s, what it took to produce 2 million dozen eggs a month, took about 1,500 employees, by the time you got it off the farm and to the store and to a consumer. Today less than 100 do that same task. It’s very difficult to maintain that workforce. Just like everyone else with labor issues, farmers have a lot of labor issues and we’re not doing the most glamorous jobs in the world. Now technology and AI and the things that have come into farming, really for the last 30 years, are a lot more technical jobs. A lot of people think of farming and you think of picking crops in the field or things of that nature, the sweat work, which there’s still plenty of, but there are a lot of technology jobs and there are a lot of AI jobs. There’s a lot of water demand in agriculture in the last 30 years has, by some individual crops, many of them, water demand has been shrunk from 40 to 80%. Fertilizer has been shrunk 40 to 50%. I’ll give you some examples. So if you go back to the 80s, 90s, water was irrigated over the top and just broadcast all over an entire crop. Today, we use a drip system in most cases. We use AI using ground sensors to see where the ground is already has enough moisture in it for that crop and you don’t even water areas, fields today. Go back 30 years ago, you’d have watered the whole thing. That was part of the process. Same thing with fertilizers, we would broadcast fertilizer all over the field 30 years ago, in most cases, today, we use a fertigation technique, which is obviously, fertilizing through your irrigation system or if you use granular fertilizers, you put it right beside the root system in the quantity that the plant needs. So there’s very little runoff, there’s very little opportunity to have any nutrients leave that field, and you’re not using any excess water. So you’re much more efficient today. We have to be more efficient. We have to continue to get more efficient to be more competitive. But also, and we forget this a lot of times, farmers are the first environmentalists and farmers who have farmed these lands, in some cases for many, many generations see themselves as the first environmentalists. We’re very proud of that. So we continue to use technology to make ourselves more efficient, which generally means you’re using less labor, you’re using less water, and you’re using less fertilizers to grow your crop.”

It has been announced that IBM is going to be releasing quantum computing. Could technology be getting ahead of us?

Simpson said, “I think when you think of AI, and I’ve thought about this a lot, and obviously, in agriculture itself, and in many businesses, we use AI very effectively. I think if you look at futuristic modeling, and you think between robotics and AI, you’re going to need a whole lot less labor. So what’s going to happen to your workforce? You’re going to have a lot of these repetitive things that people don’t desire to do, but make a living doing, being done by AI, robots, robotics and things of that nature. What I have suggested is, and this is important, and I’ve talked about this more and more the last couple of months, is when you mass produce food, using AI in warehouses and these large vertical buildings, as there is a big opportunity to embed things in that food that, whether you’re doing it from a terrorist perspective, or genetically modifying your food sources, so I think what we have to make sure of is that if we’re going to be importing foods from these areas, that are not regulating that type of activity, we have to be very careful because when you think about terrorist attacks, what happened in Israel October 7th, what happened for us on 9/11, we lost 3,000 people approximately that one day. Israel lost 1,400 folks or so, in one day. Think about being able to contaminate your food supply in a mass scale like that. The more that AI is developed, with water sources, with food sources, fuels. We saw a study here just few weeks ago, where China has already embedded backdoors, if you will call them and I’m not a technology person, but they’ve embedded viruses and things within our supply chain grids, not only for our energy but for other supply chain throughout the country. If there were a major war outbreak, the first thing they would do is shut down the power grids and supply chains that they’ve already got, computers already embedded in systems, embedded into our systems. So I think AI has to be guarded. I will tell you what’s very disappointing is our federal government is always asleep at the switch. You’ll get very articulate people on the left and right of this issue and they’ll come and they’ll tell us, they’ll warn us, they’ll tell us what all is going on and what all these negatives are. You never see Washington pass a solution. So then you have foolish solutions, like executive orders from the President of the United States trying to control AI. That’s about as foolish as it gets. Those are things that our Congress should be taking up and taking very seriously and coming up with solutions, not just for clickbait purposes, going out on their nightly news, whichever one they’re on, and talking about what all the problems are. These problems exist, they’re real and our Congress people should be in Washington taking care of these types of things, rather than, all the bickering that goes on in in Washington, and then that leads to no solutions. By the way, Tallahassee is completely different than Washington, DC. We have a balanced budget. They’ve got a trillion dollars a quarter deficit. We have reserves, they have nothing. So when you think about economically, when you think about the terroristic threats of this country, our southern border, they do nothing about it. Now, we’ll see if something happens in the next few months. But we’ve been talking about this for three years, ever since Biden was elected. So for three years, we couldn’t do anything, and now all of a sudden, an election year, we’re going to do something perhaps. I think that federally, we are bankrupt and I don’t just mean bankrupt financially, but federally we are bankrupt of solid leadership and hopefully the elections will change that here in about 11 months. But the reality is, is that we have to quit worrying about who’s the best on the news program, and start paying attention to things that are going to revolutionize this world in the next decade. AI is a big one. The things that can happen through AI, if we thought the pandemic showed our weaknesses on supply chain, wait until AI is fully implemented in these systems and then you have countries like China and Russia and others that are continuously attacking our systems in the United States. With AI, it’s going to be much easier.”

Almost 2,000 more acres have been dedicated to the Rural and Family Lands Act.

Simpson said, “That is such a great program. When we have a property enrolled in Rural and Family Lands, we removed the development rights from that property, which means that property in perpetuity, can be used for agricultural purposes. But not only agricultural benefits from that, it’s our wildlife corridor. It’s our aquifer recharge area for the state of Florida. It’s got so many benefits when we preserve our land. And by the way, this land remains in private hands, which means it remains on the tax rolls. So it’s supporting our local needs, frontline responders, and all of the things that go into local government, our education system. So it’s such a great program. Yesterday, we had a Cabinet meeting and we were able to preserve another 2,000 acres through that program. We’re just about to cross the 100,000 acre threshold and what I’m very proud of, and I sometimes forget this, I’ve been the Commissioner of Agriculture, about a well, January 5th will be one year, we’ve nearly preserved as much property in my first year as we did in the previous 20 years of the program. When you think about the wildlife corridor, when you think about, again, our aquifer recharge and when you think about where we grow our food, this needs to be a major priority of the legislature. It has been. When I was Senate president I put $300 million in the budget to fund these projects and that’s by the way, how we’ve had this success so far. We’re hoping the legislature will come back again this year. We’re asking for an additional $300 million. Last year we did get $100 million in the budget. The governor vetoed that money. But we’ve worked very closely with the Governor’s team this year. They are very supportive. They actually put $100 million of recurring revenue in their proposed budget and so we’re hopeful that this year the legislature will respond. It’s by far the most affordable, taxpayer friendly way of acquiring these properties of any other technique that we have. It’s a great program, and we’re real proud of it.”

The Fresh from Florida program is also another initiative from the Department of Agriculture.

Simpson said, “It’s another great program. As Senate president a couple of years ago, I put a tremendous amount of money in the budget to fund these programs and advertise Fresh from Florida. If you go on the website Fresh from Florida, you will see all of the products that are available to you. When you go in your grocery store, when you go on your app, and you order your food for your family, you’ll see the Fresh from Florida symbols there. Anytime you’re using that, you are supporting your local farmers in the state of Florida. We know that most of our citizens love to support local farmers. They want to make sure that they’re taking care of their environment, their food supply, their source and so farmers are have been have been using Fresh from Florida for many years. We’ve just ramped it up considerably because we see such a great value in letting our citizens know not only what are the great products that they can buy that are grown here in the state of Florida, but when you support your local farmers, it keeps them in business, and it allows them to continue to keep our land. I always say the last crop that you plant are houses. The way to avoid planting those houses there is to have a very robust agriculture industry in the state and this program is part of that solution. We’re very proud of the work that our farmers are doing.”

The Florida legislative session will begin in January.

Simpson said, “I was actually a bill sponsor of many of the bills that we passed through the years and funding projects to clean up our environment and make sure the Keys is just a gem in the state of Florida and obviously, an area of critical concern and all the beauty that the Keys have to offer and not only in tourism, but in food supply and just national security issues and everything else. We’re very proud of our work there in the Keys. We’re going to continue to come back and continue to support the Keys. So we’re looking forward to having another good year here in the legislature. I just want to tell everybody I hope they all have a blessed and Merry Christmas and we’re looking forward to the new year and hopefully Florida and the United States will prosper and looking forward to that challenge.”