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.
The current cold front has affected areas in Florida.
Simpson said, “It’s very cold up here. Right now it’s about 27 degrees here in Tallahassee. Some of the Panhandle last night we heard reports in the teens. Of course, that’s without the wind, that’s just straight temperature. So that is the time of the year we’re getting these cold fronts where we are getting a lot of winter rain, which is very helpful to state of Florida, especially this year. In some areas of the state, we had drought, and obviously in some areas of the state, we had abundance of water, which is not uncommon, by the way in the state of Florida. But in the areas where we had our droughts, we are making up some of that rainfall from last year that we missed. So that’s helpful to our aquifer. Cold weather, by the way, does a lot of good things. You don’t want to get too cold, but it kills a lot of pests. It turns citrus and strawberries and other fruits, it makes them sweeter. We do need some of the cold weather, but we don’t want it to get below freezing if we can help it.”
Ag on the Hill was yesterday and that’s where the agriculture community comes before the state legislature.
Simpson said, “Each year, they have a week where a lot of farmers from around the state, now they’re here every week in some capacity, but this week is a special week and they call it Ag on the Hill and everyone comes up. Last night we had a big event it’s called Taste of Florida. You have a lot of different agricultural producers from around the state come up and everyone walks around and gets to eat. We also had Fresh from Florida, the Bellamy Brothers up here last night to sing for that crowd and perform. So that went very well last night. They’re working the legislative process this week, making sure that all the agriculture communities are being heard by our legislators, trying to make sure that we’re educating them on what’s important to Florida’s family farmers and so that that’s what this week is all about.”
What are some of the priorities?
Simpson explained, “One of them has to be done through the Constitution. A tangible tax that we put on our farmers is a tax that if you buy equipment, tractors, baling equipment, things of that nature, any type of processing equipment, you have to pay an annual tax on it every year to be able to keep that equipment. So it’s just like a homestead tax on your house, you have to pay your real estate taxes every year or ultimately, they’ll be taken away from you. Same thing with your equipment if you’re a farmer. These taxes really burdens our farmers, but it really burdens our smaller farmers. It keeps them from being able to grow their businesses, it keeps them from being able to reinvest in other areas where they can do more farming. So this year, we’re hopeful that the legislature will put on a ballot this year a constitutional amendment and if voters voted for it will eliminate this tax from your farming community. That’s something that we’re pushing really hard for.”
Another priority is banning synthetic meats.
Simpson said, “They’re talking about, they use biomass and science to grow meat and they can use a 3d printer to make it look like anything you want it to look like. So if you want to look like a fillet or a T bone or what have you, but cultured meat or synthetic meat type products, we’re going to ban that. What the goal of those types of groups are is to eliminate your cattle industry. In the cattle industry, we have a hashtag, it’s called Cows Keep Florida Green. Some folks forget that farmers are the first environmentalists of the state, and of our land. We’re good stewards of our land, we use best management practices to manage those things. But when you think about synthetic meats, you’re talking about over time, you would get this consolidated into one or two hands that were producing the biomass that you would need to produce whatever meats that you were going to have. If you think about that, as a supply chain, during COVID, with our pork industry, there’s four main suppliers around the country. Several of them had major shut down, and you saw the price of pork double in just a few months. We cannot let that happen to our farming industry. We cannot let that happen to the beef industry and meat industry in general. Not only would it cost millions of jobs, but then you would have it in such a small, few hands. Then think about if you’re culturing your meat, or you’re growing lab grown meat, you could do anything that that you wanted to. At least now today, as Americans, we get to select the types of meats that we want to eat and where they come from and how they’re grown and whether they’re grass fed or grain. In other words, we have a lot of options today and these cultured meats to me just seems like it’s a step too far in the name of global warming. In the state of Florida we’re going to try to ban that this year.”
Sometimes even if a meat says product of USA, it may not be that way.
Simpson explained, “Those are federal rules that are being followed not state rules. Therein lies part of the problem because we have such a robust Fresh from Florida program. We do have cattlemen that we’re working to get signed up that the cattle are not only raised here in Florida, but then they’re processed here in Florida. So I know that several farmers are trying to really pick that up. You have to be careful in all aspects of your food supply, and that supply chain. But if you bring that product in the United States, it is my understanding also, then it’s processed here, then you can claim that as meat from the United States. Certainly not a Fresh from Florida product, because we would not let that happen under that circumstance. But you could advertise it as being from the United States.”
Agriculture is the one issue that truly affects everyone.
Simpson said, “Our agriculture industry is national security. A lot of folks don’t have it that high up on their list of well, what do you mean national security? Well, I would put it in simple terms that just imagine that you have one week of no groceries in the grocery store. You’d have complete chaos in this country. Now imagine that you had 30 days of no food in the grocery stores, of course, people would be starving to death in this country. That’s when I say it’s national security. That is the umbrella that I know how important it is to protect that supply chain because I know how easy it would be to break it. I know how easy it is. You’ve got so many groups out there trying their best and a lot of them are doing it under the moniker of global warming, of trying to shut down family farms and these small farms and they do it through regulatory structure. They do it through cultured meat, they do it through all types of avenues. That’s what your family farmers are fighting in addition to obviously, escalating prices of land and real estate and equipment and tangible taxes and it’s all those things your farmers have to fight. The larger farmers over time will be able to do those things and adapt. It’s your smaller farmers that are being eliminated, which by the way eliminate that supply chain and it’s the smaller farmers that keep that supply chain so robust. The pandemic, obviously, in the last just the last few years, we realize the critical nature of and how vulnerable the supply chains are. We’re working every day as we get up to make sure that we have those supply chains in place, that we protect our family farms that we try to get them as much money as we can through their products for Fresh from Florida. We are trying to pass legislation this year.”
Fresh from Florida is going strong.
Simpson said, “Fresh from Florida is doing very well. We’ve got a great team. They have done a superb job of promoting Fresh from Florida. You’ll see it if you listen to any type of advertisement, if you go on your phone to try to go to the grocery store and order product, you’re going to get a Fresh from Florida signal. We’re working very hard. We want to educate our population on over 300 commodities are grown in Florida and where can you find them and what season are they in? If you buy these Fresh from Florida products, you’re supporting your Florida farmers. When I say farmers, we don’t say aquaculture a lot, but aquaculture is farming. So you’re supporting your farming community, aquaculture fisheries. Generally, what we have seen is people are willing to pay a little more for a product that’s grown at their home location. So Fresh from Florida can garner a little better shelf space in the stores and then secondly, people are willing to pay a little more for that product versus product grown in any other state or any other foreign country. So we’re very proud of that and we believe that we’re bringing a lot of value to agriculture and to farmers. We think we’re on the right track there.”
Rural and Family Lands will also more than likely come up during the legislative session.
Simpson said, “As you remember last year, the governor vetoed $100 million of legislation, but this year, the legislature is proposing, a few years ago and I’ll just tell a little story. A few years ago, I negotiated the compact with the Seminole tribe that is going to bring this year I believe $650 million to the state coffers, and over time will be well over a billion dollars a year. What the legislature has said this year is they’re going to take a third of that money that’s coming in on a recurring basis and put it towards the Rural and Family Lands. So anyone who’s excited about conserving land here in the state of Florida and the wildlife corridor, should be very excited about this proposal that’s coming out of legislature this year. Now, look, we’ve got to get it through the process. We’ve got to past the governor’s desk, but if those things happen, we will have a funding stream that will make an immediate impact on wildlife corridor. Obviously the wildlife corridors not only where the wildlife traverses the state, but it’s also where we grow your food. It’s where our aquifer in this state gets recharged. It would make a significant dent into that funding to be able to I would say in the next 15, 20 years with that funding stream, we will have made substantial progress towards preserving that wildlife corridor here in the state.”
FFA is a very strong program.
Simpson said, “We have robust programs throughout the state for 4H and FFA programs and FFA stands for Future Farmers of America. This is where our younger students normally starting about middle school, about sixth grade, start enrolling in FFA programs in the school system. 4H goes down to I believe, well, two or three year olds, you have to be five, I think to start showing plants and animal projects at fairs. There’s an educational process there. But when they have a field trip or they go somewhere from a school event, they’re not counted as an excused absence for a 4H or FFA student. We’re going to try to put it in state law this year that those are excused absences. We would really like to have a more robust 4H and FFA program in the K 12 system to make sure that we are teaching our youth about agriculture. We’ve put a lot of hurdles in the way of that also through the educational processes and we’re trying to get those hurdles out of the way now so that we can really reintroduce our youth to agriculture. That education, of course, is going to go a long ways towards helping us sustain agriculture for 50, 100 years from now.”
Immigration continues to be an issue.
Simpson said, “First of all, what’s happening at our southern borders, just an absolute crime. When you have 8 million people that are illegally, and you know that there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of terrorists coming across that border. When you know that fentanyl that’s coming across that border is killing over 100,000 Americans a year. Think about what war we would tolerate as a society that would kill 100,000 Americans, period, not each year, period. There’s nothing like that ever. Now you’re starting to see these cities where they’re being shipped to, these sanctuary cities are now pushing back even against the Biden administration. These are very liberal cities and they’re pushing back on the Biden administration saying we can’t continue this. When you think about the affordable housing crisis, and you think about the crime that’s being committed, this is not hard working people coming across the border, making life a better life for themselves. Some of them are, but there is such crimes being committed at that border, crimes getting to the border, on the Mexican side of that border, where people are being literally raped and taken advantage of and fleeced, and then they get into America, and we paid to have them shipped anywhere in the country, the Biden administration does. That’s a crime against the United States. We have to seal up that border. We have to have borders in this country to be able to even law and order but think about, and again, the crime of 100,000 Americans a year being killed by fentanyl, and then all of the related tragedies and family tragedies that are in addition to the deaths and the loss of life, just the lack of quality of life and your family lives. We’ve got to stop that border crisis. I’m looking forward to President Trump being elected here in November, and he will put an end to it very quickly. That’s something we’ve got to take very serious because it threatens our entire way of life.”
Governor DeSantis will be in New Hampshire the next few days.
Simpson said, “I think that the handwriting is on the wall there with Governor DeSantis. He says he’s going to continue on to Super Tuesday. I’m not sure that’s true, but he might. It’s his prerogative. I think he’s going to New Hampshire and South Carolina. We’ll see where it goes. His team believes they have a way to turn this around. I’m not sure that’s true. I think Trump’s got such a dominant position in the Republican Party. I certainly support President Trump in his endeavors. I think he did a great job, some people would get upset by what he would say and the way he would say things, but you can be very offended by the things that Trump might say, or the way he may do things, but certainly you don’t disagree with having America First type policies, having a secure border, having a great economy, no inflation. All of the things that you could actually say about President Trump’s presidency, and all the accomplishments that he had had was overshadowed by a lot of myths, the Russian hoax, inclusion and all the things that were being talked about. Look, politics are politics. I didn’t think I would ever see them escalate to this level, as a young man today, but this is just where we are today. I don’t say this disrespectfully or even partisanly, but our current president is not capable of running this country and capable of making really good cognitive decisions. When you see it over and over and over again, whether it’s the border, whether it’s inflationary policies, where it’s trying to make everybody go to electric vehicles. Now think about the state of Florida, I call them golf carts. EVs are just big golf carts. So you have all these golf carts out there and a hurricane pops up, and your golf cart is only a quarter charged, and you’re going to try to drive from Key West to Miami. You’re not going to make it and then you have golf carts, you have these EVs all over the sides of the road. As soon as the salt water hits them, they’re going to burn and explode. The reality is we’ve sold ourselves that this is a much more environmentally friendly way to do business. That’s just not true. We have not come up with a way that I have heard yet to recycle the EV batteries. You have to mine so many rare earths to be able to put in an EV battery. There are a lot of serious problems coming. I believe, by the way that the people in the United States have I think there’s I don’t know, 14, 15% of us have any EV and what I believe is, I believe that we’re getting close to the people that want them. Then all of a sudden, you’ll see a major fall off as you do with other novel ideas. The federal government tried to put billions and sometimes trillions of dollars and force the hands of Americans to go to a technology that’s just not going to work for us is ludicrous. So there’s a lot of things going on at the federal level we can’t control. Thank God, we have an election every four years and hopefully this year, we’ll have a better outcome.”