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 agricultural community certainly cherishes the family bond around this time of year.
Simpson said, “We do and the thing about your farmers are, and we don’t talk about this a lot, but depending on the type of farming you do, tomorrow is Thanksgiving, but you will have many farms that have to go in and take care of them, the products there. If you’re in the egg business, if you’re in the dairy business, you’ve got to be out there on those farms, taking care of those animals, and feeding and watering and picking, harvesting eggs or milk or whatever your other products are. So it’s a blessing for a lot of families to take tomorrow off and enjoy that holiday, but you’ve got a lot of hard working farming families that are going to be working tomorrow. Then they’ll get to enjoy their time with their family, hopefully in the afternoon and evening. We’re blessed to have such hard working farmers in this country, not only our state of Florida, but we’ve been blessed all of my life with an abundance of food. That’s the big goal of the department is to make sure that we have the most safe, affordable and abundant food anywhere in the world. It gets more challenging, as everyone knows, with our supply chains and with inflation and interest rates and labor costs and all the things that hamper farming. We spend a lot of time in the state of Florida, trying to remove those obstacles out of the way of our farmers. Of course, this week being Thanksgiving, the blessing that it is, we like to reflect on that to make sure that we understand where that food is coming from and there are people preparing this food and we’re blessed to have that in this country.”
Farmers don’t really get a day off.
Simpson said, “They really don’t. A lot of your farmers and depending on what type of farming you’re doing, some of it is seasonal, but most farmers that have seasonal crops are doing year round other types of crops. A lot of farmers have to work 365 days a year and I said that many times during the pandemic, when the lockdowns were ordered, and everybody were staying home those first two or three weeks to figure out where we were, your farmers did not get to be able to do that. They had to go to work every day, not only to take care of your farm, but to be able to provide for our population, our country and our state. Your famers have to work every day, whether it’s Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day or New Year’s Day. We’re blessed to have the people we have here that are farming in our state and our country. The people that have made our living doing that are blessed to have been able to do that also because we raised our family in that type of a work ethic, that type of tradition, and it’s a great way to raise a family.”
The latest hurricanes have resulted in massive cleanups that are still going on.
Simpson said, “One of the things that we have tried to do, and I said this many times, internally in my department, was to make sure that we’re operating in real time, and working with the legislature. After Idalia hit, for the first time in the history of the department and the state of Florida, we’ve got an aid package together that is state funded, that will be meaningful to your farming community. A lot of times the farming community has had to be taken care of, essentially, solely from the federal government.”
It sometimes takes a long time to get the needed aid to the farmers.
Simpson said, “A lot of your farmers cannot hold out for that long. So with the work of the legislature, over this special session we had about three weeks ago, we put together a very robust package. I’ll give you some examples of differences. Hurricane Michael hit a little over five years ago, and half of the material, the fuel that’s on the ground, the trees and things have gotten taken out during that time, it’s still on the ground. If we were to have a very poorly timed lightning strike in the wrong area, we could have a major fire in our panhandle that would burn uncontrollably for some period of time, just because of all the fuel that is on the ground. Hurricane Idalia, to contrast it, we hope to have that cleaned up within less than a few years and this package that the legislature helped us put together is going to go a long way to make sure we’re getting that material cleaned up, but also getting our farmers back on their feet and providing low interest or zero interest loans for farmers to rebuild their infrastructure. We’re very proud of that. One of the things that we don’t talk about a lot, but our aquaculture industry here in the state of Florida, we grow the second most number of clams anywhere in the country. I think Virginia is number one, we’re number two, and a lot of folks don’t think of Florida as an aquaculture state. But we’re growing that business exponentially. We’ve got a really good team that manages that. That’s also part of the aid that we sought after and received from the legislature here just a few weeks ago. So we do have a lot of good things going in our state for farmers. We just have to keep that momentum up so that we can protect our food supply.”
The Rural and Family Lands Act is also critical for agriculture.
Simpson said, “What it does is we buy development rights from farmers who want to keep their property and agriculture in perpetuity. When we think about our agriculture industry, we’re clearly going to need land to be able to have farming and this program is designed to buy those development rights. And as Senate president, I was able to secure $300 million from the program. We’re going to have substantially spent all that money here in the next few months. So we’re going back to the legislature this year, to get I hope, an additional minimum of $300 million dollars. We have over a billion and a half dollars of opportunities that came in. We opened the program back up in June. We had public meetings where we reviewed all of our opportunities. Then we put a formula together, a mathematical formula that ranks those projects. Once we go through that process, then the cabinet has to approve that, okay, we see that you did a process. There was transparency. There were rules of the road that we followed, that we agreed to. Once that list is approved, then those properties will be available to start negotiating the purchase of those development rights. We’re hoping that we would take down another 300,000 or 400,000 acres this year, utilizing that program. Just to remind everybody, the benefits of the Rural and Family Lands Act, the farmers still own their land. If the state buys your land, of course, the state owns that land. But in this case, the farmers will own their land, they will be responsible to maintain that land, which means the taxpayers do not have to afford that bill, the property will remain only local tax rolls because it is private property. If the state buys your property, then it comes off the local tax rolls and then of course, we have to go back to the legislature and get additional money to take care of that property. So when you’re thinking about the taxpayer in the equation, Rural and Family Lands not only secures our future for farming and those farming families, but it also does it with the best benefit to the taxpayer possible.”
The Department of Agriculture also keeps an eye on international affairs. What is the thinking on the ceasefire in the Middle East?
Simpson said, “I visited Israel in 2019, actually, with the governor. We did a mission trade over there, where we went and did a lot of demo use, with our university systems and businesses, to try to really promote doing more business from the state of Florida with the State of Israel. It’s such a great nation. Israel has done so much for so long with so little, they can practically do anything with nothing. They are such a hardworking and they take care of themselves. Hamas has to be eliminated over the coming months. There’s no question about that. The terrorist groups, they’re willing to go in and murder. Think about this this weekend, when you’re with your family, people that are willing to come in there just murder every one of you for no reason other than your nationality. That’s such, just a crime by itself. With that said, the fact that there is has been a deal that Israel has reached, and of course, nothing is done until it is done. Until the hostages are in the hands of the Israelis, it’s not done yet. But by all practical purposes here, there’s a deal. I think it is because of the pressure that Israel has put on Hamas that made this deal possible. I think that once pause is done and the hostages are exchanged, then I think they will be right back at eliminating the balance of Hamas. And by the way, they have no choice. It’s a matter of timing. Hamas are terrorists, they’re going to continue to be terrorists. If we do not eliminate it now, the next generation will have to eliminate it at some point. We have to eliminate that type of opportunity for terrorists to attack us and our allies. It’s a real shame what’s happening with our military personnel that are being attacked unmercifully right now. I really hope that we take measures next year to change the outcome of these things. But Israel has suffered major losses on October the 7th, to a much to a much larger scale than we did on 9/11, per capita. I got to meet with Benjamin Netanyahu when we were there. He’s a good man. He knows what to do. I believe that Israel will be very successful at eradicating Hamas over the coming months and years.”
Remember our troops are also working over the holiday.
Simpson said, “Our troops will be working this Thanksgiving to make sure that we are blessed with the freedoms that we have. They will be protecting us and protecting America, and our freedoms. I think sometimes we may take that for granted. I would just urge everybody tomorrow when they’re with their families to talk to their families about these things, because we have many Americans in harm’s way, protecting our way of life. We all love our troops. We can’t do any of this without our troops and we’re blessed to have such a great force protecting us every day. Our military is meant to protect us, our military is meant to afford us our freedoms, and to attack our enemies, if we have any in this world. It is not to be some political football that we can play with.”
Thanksgiving is a good time to remember our blessings.
Simpson said, “We’re very pleased with the outcome so far and and hope that we can continue that same piece going into next year. Happy Thanksgiving.”