The Agriculture Commissioner is coming to the Keys

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 commissioner has plans to tour the Keys on Friday.

He said, “We’re going to tour the mosquito control farm that afternoon and then we’re going on down to Key West and looking at some of our fisheries and some of the reefs and things that we’re really trying to push. The legislature funded, I think $10 million last year. We’re going to ask for additional money this year to continue to build up those systems. We also like to make sure we continue to get educated on the issues and with affordable housing, and all the things that it takes to continue to have our area flourish.”

Operation Candy Crush has been going strong in the Department of Agriculture.

Simpson explained, “Operation Candy Crush, we worked with the legislature last year to make it illegal to make these high THC products in packaging that look like candy, because obviously that’s targeting our children. So we actually had it outlawed through state law. We immediately went around and seized over 100,000 packages. These packages look like Skittles, or gummy bears, very colorful, very good artwork. Over 2,000 children went in the hospital last year that had been taking this candy with high THC. It was a very dangerous situation.”

An additional 1000 package were found recently in Miami.

Simpson said, “In real time we were able to sweep in, do our jobs, continue to educate those vendors. The first time we go, there’s normally an educational process because they’re violating state law and then we’re looking for additional means that potentially losing their license if this happens again, obviously, because this is completely targeting our children. The packaging looks almost identical to these other candy packages. I was really proud of the team that took the initiative, saw a news report and reacted immediately, and obviously took a lot of packages out of the system to protect our children.”

The Rural and Family Lands Act is another real help for agriculture.

Simpson said, “Yesterday the governor put out his recommended budget and he recommended $100 million dollars. What that project does is we buy developer rights from farmers, and then obviously, that land cannot be developed.”

The wildlife corridor is where the food is grown in the state of Florida – it’s where everything is dark on a Google map at night.

Simpson said, “The Rural and Family Lands, we buy the development rights from farmers within that space, so that we can continue to add value to the state of Florida. If we buy the development rights, of course, the farmers in those areas agreed to use best management practices and care for that land. It stays on the local tax rolls. So it’s a very good bargain for the state taxpayer, to use the Rural and Family Lands to take care of that wildlife corridor. So we’re very proud that at least there was some acknowledgement in the governor’s budget, that it’s a good program. We’re really hoping to get a minimum of 300 million again this year. Last year, the legislature spent $850 million of our money, buying land, authorizing the buying of land. Well, as soon as we get that land bought, it comes off the tax rolls. So the local governments lose that tax revenue. So this means everybody else has to pay more. Then we have to go back and get additional dollars to take care of it. So I’m hoping they’ll see the real value of the Rural and Family Lands and keep pushing that. We’re pushing from the department’s perspective, very hard because that’s the last of our farmlands. It’s the last of our ecosystem, our aquifer and our wildlife corridors. You get all three of those high priorities in one package.”

The Department of Agriculture is always at work to help with hurricane relief.

Simpson said, “I have to give a lot of kudos to the legislature for working so closely with us. During this special session of about a month ago, now, the legislature took first time in history, we work with them to come up with a loan program for infrastructure on those farms. So when a farmer loses his building, and in some cases, there were lots of chicken houses. Now in that area, the chicken houses are meat chickens, not eggs. These buildings were really 30, 40 years old, you can’t get insurance on the older ones. So they’re just lost forever. What we did was we come up with a set program that said, hey, there’s certain criteria, we’re not just passing money out, but if you’ve got a viable business model, that then we can loan you this money interest free for up to 10 years to get your buildings rebuilt and get you back on your feet. It’s all about our supply chain. We need to protect all of our farmers and we need to encourage farming not discourage. If these farmers don’t get back on their feet, it weakens our supply chain, it weakens our national security issues. There’s over $350 million of damage to our farming community there. I was proud of the way the state came through, the legislature came through with that loan program, and that’s going to get a lot of our farmers back on their feet.”

As the holidays approach, remember Fresh from Florida products.

Simpson said, “You have a robust Fresh from Florida program. We want Floridians to know when they go to those stores, if that was grown in Florida, you’ll have the Fresh from Florida products out. We’re just helping your local farmers. Agriculture keeps Florida green. We encourage everyone to buy local and local farmers.”