This heat wave affects all of us — especially our agriculture

Wilton Simpson, Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM on Wednesday to talk about what’s been going on in the state.

The big topic for discussion at the moment is the heat.

Simpson said, “Heat is a very important factor in agriculture and workers that are working in agriculture. I believe unfortunately, that there was someone lost to heat exposure in the last few weeks here in South Florida. So heat is definitely a problem not only for crops, but for the people that have to work outside in those fields.”

In terms of crops, the heat hasn’t done too much damage yet, but if it continues, things could go sideways.

Miami-Dade has been instituting additional breaks for agricultural workers because of the heat.

Simpson said, “We have a federal organization called OSHA, that regulates a lot of these types of activities already. I think what happens is as local governments no matter what the issue is, will have a knee jerk reaction to a specific issue. We don’t know the circumstances of this gentleman that passed away and so we just don’t know the health conditions or pre-existing conditions, we don’t know the medical history or anything. So local government trying to get involved in those businesses, or generally, it’s a knee jerk reaction and over the long run does not appear to be helpful. Number two, when you look at the long term trends of global warming, we should be very proud of the state of Florida, that our carbon emissions is lower than it was 30 years ago when we had half as many people living here.”

Thirty of forty years ago, most of the electricity in Florida was produced by coal. Today it’s produced by natural gas.

Simpson said, “Natural gas burns much cleaner. And about 60 to 70% of our electricity today in Florida is based on natural gas. A lot of our vehicles that you see going up down the roadways has switched from diesel, to clean burning natural gas. So when you think about all the advancements in technology, we have done a tremendous job of switching from the older fossil fuels to a natural gas state economy as it relates to manufacturing, as it relates to electricity production, vehicles, and things of that nature. We’ve greatly reduced our carbon footprint. We’re very proud of that. We need to continue. As advancements continue, ultimately, we’re going to be at a renewable sustainable energy.”

The key really comes down to cost.

Simpson said, “So you have some of those technologies today, but they’re three times as expensive as gasoline to burn, for instance. You can’t disrupt your entire economy, to overnight try to go to renewable and sustainable, but we got a great track record here in Florida, of continuing to lower our carbon footprint and we’re doing it through technology advancements. We’re doing it through business.”

For instance, by allowing wine canisters into our restaurants and commercial facilities, instead of having to have all these bottles, a football stadium full of wine bottles have been saved.

Simpson said, “As we learn in science class, we can wobble towards the sun a certain number of footage and you’re going to have warming. You can wobble away and you’re going to have cooling. And through the centuries, we’ve had both. We’re clearly in a warming trend right now and that doesn’t mean we won’t be in a cooling trend 50 to 75 years from now.”

Additional breaks from the heat can certainly help agricultural workers.

Simpson said, “The last thing any farmer wants is to have an employee have any harm, any injury, not death, but any injury. We don’t want any injuries in our working population, and in any industry, not just agriculture. Construction, think about roofers. If you’re above 90 degrees in a build, what are you on a roof? So what happens is that local governments will run in and not consider the fact that there are 10 other jobs you could have that are much worse for heat than being out in the field. Farmers know these things that you take care of your employees and you take care of people that are working in the fields. These are good people, hard working people, producing this food and fiber that we need everyday to live and we want to take care of them also. It just does not take government to do that. That’s all.”

In addition to the heat, wildfires are another concern.

Simpson said, “We are continuously upgrading our equipment to be able to respond to these wildfires. In the last few years as Senate President, I put money in the budget to buy some additional helicopters that go in and have the larger bladders to drop water on these fires very early in the process, so that we try to put them out before they get too large. Another thing that we’ve done in Florida and we’ve done a really good job of this through the years, is we do a lot of controlled burns. So that you’re removing that fuel from those forests initially. So when you do have an outbreak, it won’t spread as quickly, it won’t burn as hot, and then you can put it out quicker. It makes it safer, not only for all of our population, all of our communities, but it makes it safer for firefighters when they’re out there fighting these fires. What we’ve been doing the last five, six months in the form of agriculture, is making sure that we have the best equipment available. We’re modernizing our fleet, our safety equipment, our bulldozers, our plows. We’re going to continue in a very aggressive controlled burn program to make sure when we do have a fire that we can put it out very quickly. We need to get that fuel consumed. So that in case you have a major fire in the panhandle, that we won’t have a fire like Canada or like the fires you see out west in California. The key to this is the continuous burning program, managing our forests, and your forestry within the Department of Agriculture. We have the best men and women in the country working on these things every day. It’s lightning season, so there’s going to be fires and we just asked everyone to be vigilant.”

Hurricane season is also upon us.

Simpson said, “The weather pattern we have today seems to be favorable, or at least has been favorable thus far. We want to make sure that everyone’s prepared. We know how quickly a hurricane can form and how they come at us. All over the state of Florida, we need to be very vigilant during hurricane season. We just have to be prepared for anything to happen. The storms are intensifying very quickly in some cases and we just have to be prepared to keep our families safe.”

Fuel has been stolen recently, but the Department of Agriculture is on the job.

Simpson said,” We’re very proud of our law enforcement within your Department of Agriculture. We work with all of our local sheriff’s and even some federal agencies in some of the fuel thefts. This last year, we had to change the law, because of the technology has changed in the way that the fuel thefts happen. In the past, we talked about skimmers a lot. Skimmers are now an older technology where they would steal your credit card information. Today, the theft of choice generally is called pulsars. What would happen is they have these very large bladder bags within a truck system and they go up and when they’re stealing your fuel, it’s registering like they only got 25 gallons of fuel, when they really got like 700 or 800 gallons of fuel or more.”

The new law to address this new technology has gone into effect July 1.

Simpson said, “We’ve already made our first major bust here in Central Florida. We have been working all over the state to put these folks away. It’ll save tens of millions of dollars in thefts on an annualized basis. And obviously, that’s coming out of our consumer’s pockets. So it’s one more thing that we’re trying to do on behalf of the consumer to lower fuel costs. Anything that we can do to prevent theft, anything we can do to prevent these types of large thefts like fuel, vehicle semis things of that nature, and we’re working very hard at the Department of Agriculture to make those recoveries continue to reduce that calls on our consumers.”