Our farmers need our support for the future of our country

Just about every time you eat a meal, you should thank a farmer.

Wilton Simpson, Florida’s 13th 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.

The legislative session in Tallahassee has just wrapped up and land acquisition funds have become available.

Simpson said, “The Rural and Family Lands Program has been around since 2001, but between 2001 and 2021, there had only been $100 million in the history of that program applied to it.”

The program purchases development rights from farmers.

Simpson explained, “What that does is it guarantees that that land is going to be in farming lands in perpetuity.”

When you see a nighttime map of Florida, the lights indicate the cities. Everywhere it’s dark on the map is where most of the food is grown. It’s also where aquifer recharge happens.

Wildlife also traverses the state in those dark sections of the map.

Simpson said, “When you look at the Rural and Family Lands, we are buying development rights generally in that space on that map. So not only do you get the benefit of having your farmers have their land in perpetuity, you also get the benefit of the wildlife corridor, the benefit of the water recharge and the environmental stewardship of those lands.”

This year the legislature added $100 million into that program. Last year $300 million was added. So at the moment there is about $400 million in the Rural and Family Lands Program.

Simpson said, “I think in the July meeting we’re going to spend about $90 million of it and we’re going to reopen that program in June and hopefully we’ll get a good response from farmers wanting to come into that program.”

There is criteria for the land to be included in the program.

Simpson said, “Our primary issue is preserving agricultural land in the state of Florida with the bonuses of the wildlife corridor and water recharge. We’re grateful to the legislature for putting those resources in there.”

The Florida legislature also signed into law yesterday the prohibition of certain foreign entities from purchasing land in the interest of national security.

Simpson said, “The bill that the governor signed yesterday said that there are seven countries on the list. China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, I think Syria and two others can no longer buy land in the state of Florida and if they currently own land, they have just a few years to surplus that out of their holdings.”

A number of foreign entities owned food manufacturing in the US.

Simpson said, “If you get into a major war with these countries, what better way to affect your population than to break the supply chain of their food? So I look at food as national security issue. I’ve said this many times. We all know oil is a national security issue, but the truth of the matter is in food supply if you had one week with no food in the grocery store, you’d have chaos in this country.”

When you look at it like that, agriculture becomes an incredibly important commodity in the US.

Simpson pointed out, “As you get rid of the smaller farmers, then that makes it to where your supply chain can break down much more quickly because it’s just in fewer hands.”

The bill also keeps foreign entities from purchasing land specifically near military installations in this country.

Simpson said, “We’ve seen national stories where China in particular is buying up very large swaths of agricultural land around our military installations out west. So anywhere there’s a base or a military asset, they cannot buy within 10 miles of that. That’s a very important part of that bill.”

Fresh from Florida is another great program in the state.

Simpson explained, “We’re driving people to buy produce and vegetables and food produced here in the state of Florida. There’s a Fresh from Florida app. We want folks to go there not only to see what we’re growing, but to support your local farmers. What we have seen is if you have two sets of blueberries in front of you and one carton is Fresh from Florida and one is from anywhere else, people will pay a little more for the Florida blueberries because they know they’re supporting their Florida farmers.”

The program will ultimately help all farmers, but the hopes are to give a boost to the smaller farmers.

Simpson said, “Most of us in the last 10 or 15 years are really focused on growing things locally. I think it fits right in really well with the notion that you want your local farmers being supported.”

Simpson has been a farmer all of his life and he believes in the bumper sticker that says “farmers are the first environmentalists.”

He said, “Thirty years ago, farmers were the largest users of water in this state. In the last 30 years, they’re using best management practices. We’ve reduced water demand on those farms from anywhere from 30 to 80 percent to grow the same crops. Think about that reduction in water. Farmers are continuing to use less water.”

Runoff from farms has also been reduced 50 to 80 percent in the last 30 years.

Simpson said, “We have met the state goals and the federal goals and we’re continuing to focus on what nutrient load do those crops need?”

The best management practices are different in different parts of the state.

Simpson said, “South Florida best management practices will be completely different than in the panhandle. Farmers are getting much more efficient in producing food. Your farmers are very proud people and we’re going to continue to grow our food. It’s the most safe, affordable, abundant food in the world. We’re very proud of that.”