The Department of Agriculture continues cleanup efforts in Florida after Idalia

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 Department of Agriculture has been on the ground helping with cleanup from Hurricane Idalia.

Simpson said, “Our forestry department went in and with over 140 members of our chainsaw team and helped clear all these power lines. All of that area is very rural in nature. So you sometimes have many miles of paved roads before you get to a city or a small cluster of people. But then you have tons of dirt roads that run off of those even and so our forestry team, along with the others, there were many people, not just our team, but many teams. We were a big part of this one. That’s a little different than in the past. But they were in there, making sure that we were able to get to people, get power restored. I was very proud of our team, our forestry team.

The department plans to be incredibly aggressive to clean up the fuel to keep fires down.

Simpson said, “I was there a lot during that first week after the storm helping or trying to help. What we saw there, your sheriffs and their deputies, they were all out clearing roads, they were out working with our teams and guiding and where to put them at. It was just heartwarming to see all of those neighbors and farmers in those areas with tractors and equipment out helping other farmers and neighbors clear their roads and clear their places so they can get to them.”

The aquaculture division also helped by getting the testing done in a timely fashion.

Simpson said, “We worked very hard at making sure that each layer of that farming community had what they needed. We look at this, just like any we’ve said all along, farming is a national security issue. We need to make sure that our supply chains are available, and make sure that we can recover in real time those assets that were affected.”

Block grants are also coming into Florida for farming communities.

Simpson said, “We’re trying to make sure that we get block grants here very quickly to help clean up all of these areas. We’re very proud of that. We’re doing the right things. Ninety-eight percent of the power has been restored or more, and probably 100% to buildings that are available to take the power and then not damaged buildings. We had a great response to the hurricane. It’s ongoing. And again, just like in any other event, it’s going to take years to get back to complete normalcy, but I think we’ve hit the ground running.”

The grants are available to individuals, farmers and municipalities.

Simpson explained, “Through FEMA, local governments, it will get reimbursed, the state government will get reimbursed, a certain percentage of the damage. Individual businesses and farmers and people within the system will, depending on how they write these grants, will determine how it makes them available to us. In the agriculture community because we have nearly 300 different commodities in the state of Florida, we generally don’t get our people satisfied. In other words, we don’t take care of the real problems. So we’re trying to make this broad enough to make sure that we’re taking care of all of our commodities that were affected, not just traditional commodities. A lot of chicken houses, a lot of meat. I don’t know the exact number, but it was dozens of buildings just completely blown over or collapsed, hay barns, things of that nature. Some of that is covered through private insurance and some of it, they’re old enough, probably where they didn’t have private insurance on it. So there’ll be a program that we hope satisfies all of that. By the way, it will put them 100 percent back on their feet. You have some you have responsibility there, you have private insurance and things of that nature. But certainly it will hopefully keep these farmers, it will put them in a position where they can stay in business and continue to produce food and fiber for our state.”

The next legislative session will begin in January.

Simpson said, “Committee weeks are actually starting in the House next week. So if you’ve got business before the legislature, starting in the next few weeks is when you want to start getting to Tallahassee, and making sure that your members of the legislature knows your concerns. I think it worked out really well by bringing those two months forward. But again, sometimes we lose track of when they’re there. If you have business again, for the legislature, you should be thinking about it right now, because committee weeks, where a lot of the formation of how session is going to go gets started and that’ll all start here in the next.”

One issue with working on hurricane preparedness is the new people moving into the area.

Simpsons aid, “The biggest challenge we have now is we still have 1,000 people a day moving here. Each year you have a half a million to a million people that have never experienced it. But your state is as prepared as we can be. We had $22 billion of reserves when I left as Senate President, I think we still have around 17 or 18 billion now. So we’ve got the resources. I would tell everybody to stay very vigilant. Obviously, hurricane season is not over until November. So we got a few more months this year. But stay vigilant and be prepared and be prepared to listen to your local officials.”