The Florida Department of Agriculture handles fairs, fires and a whole lot more

March 1 – A number of people aren’t aware of all the aspects of life that the Florida Department of Agriculture handles.

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.

When the weather is dry, fires are a worry. In fact, Commissioner Simpson has been to two different fires in the last two weeks in the state.

He said, “We’ve got amazing firefighters in the Department of Agriculture that are doing a great job. To watch the skill set with which our firefighters fight these fires and get them under control very quickly has been just great for me to be able to see it first hand as Commissioner of Agriculture.”

A lot of planning and training goes into fighting the fires.

Simpson said, “They’re doing a tremendous job. I’m very proud of what they’re doing.”

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has a lot of issues under their umbrella, including fire fighting.

Simpson said, “We’re praying for some rainfall to help wet our ground and forests. We have a very aggressive controlled burn program in the state of Florida to make sure that they can’t spread. We’re very proud of our men and women who are not only doing the controlled burns, but getting these fires under control when they break out, but some help from Mother Nature would be helpful.”

The next seven to 10 days look like there’s going to be very little rain in the state and with more than one million acres of state forest to manage, members of the Department of Agriculture need to be on their toes.

Simpson said, “We help private land owners with their controlled burns around the state and of course we’re on the ready at any time to move assets around the state to help put wild fires out.”

The annual state fair just completed and it included a great display of agriculture products as well as more than 6,000 animals shown.

Simpson said, “We’re really teaching this next generation how to care for these animals and how to make sure that they are learning about our food supply.”

Water safety and policy are also issues for the Department of Agriculture.

Farmers over the last 25 years have used less and less water thanks to technology.

Simpson said, “In some cases there’s been an 80 percent reduction on water use. Obviously water is our most precious commodity here in Florida. Farmers are our first environmentalists.”

Interestingly, septic systems contribute more to nutrient loads in the water – the farmers have a much smaller amount.

Simpson said, “What I generally describe it as is generally the farmer has a thimble full of nutrient load going into our systems, but within his region there’s a five-gallon bucket of nutrient load. I think far too long have we tried to go and just isolate and regulate farmers to the point where we’re putting them out of business and if we put our farmers out of business, we won’t have any food. That’s the result of that.”

The Department of Agriculture plans to do regional projects where nutrient loads will be taken up without getting it into the waterways.

Simpson said, “By regionalizing these projects, I think we’ll have a lot more success and we’ll actually be removing a lot more nutrient loads from our water systems.”

In terms of the cost of food, it’s on everyone’s mind.

A year ago, the avian flu spread throughout the country in migratory birds. More than 50 million birds were lost and it created a shortage of fresh eggs in the country.

Avian flu is back with the influx of migratory birds.

Simpson assured, “Your Department of Agriculture is on top of this. It’s very important, but the reality is your egg farmers are having to do extraordinary biosecurity issues, which we have been doing for many years. This is not new to us, but when you see avian flu break like it has, you really have to double down on all your efforts to make sure that you do not get avian flu within your system.”

The egg prices peaked about six weeks ago in the southeast. Within a two week period of that, they had fallen.

Simpson said, “You should have seen your eggs get cut in half at the grocery store. It’s supply and demand. Eggs is a commodity. They are traded on the New York Stock Exchange just like any other commodity. Oil. Wheat. Soy. So the price that a farmer gets paid is based on that quote through the New York Stock Exchange. So these prices are not dictated by farmers. They’re dictated by supply and demand. That’s where we get our pricing from.”

This is the season for outbreaks of avian flu and protection measures are in place.

Simpson said, “The people that it hurts the most are the people who generally consume the most eggs. It’s people that are out here working for a living and cannot afford for their grocery bill to go from $150 a week to $250 a week. We’re doing everything we can in the egg community to make sure that we are being as safe as we can and making sure that avian flu does not spread any longer in our state.”

The Department of Agriculture also looks to protect consumers, especially from scams.

Simpson said, “We’re asking the legislature to give us more authority this year to make sure that we can continuously upgrade our technology for fighting these skimmers. We’re going to be very aggressive going after scammers with our gasoline systems and food. It’s something that we need a little more authority from the legislature to do what we would like to do with technology and I believe we’ll get that this session.”

Stay aware of the dry season and do your due diligence with campfires and barbeques.

Simpson said, “We’re looking forward to having a robust system to protect us from these forest fires, but the best way to not have them is don’t have the human made ones. Mother Nature’s going to start a few with lightning. Just know that we’re working every day to make sure we have the most safe, affordable, abundant food anywhere in the world. We take this job very serious.”

For more information on the Florida Department of Agriculture, click here: