Wilton Simpson’s vision for the future: ensuring sustainable agriculture in Florida

by | May 21, 2024

In a conversation with The Capitolist, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Wilton Simpson outlined his long-term vision for the state’s agricultural sector, drawing attention to the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program.

The initiative, which surpassed the milestone of preserving more than 100,000 acres of agricultural land last week, aims to maintain Florida’s agricultural sector and ensure future food security.

The Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, established in 2001, had preserved about 66,000 acres by 2021. Simpson, who noted that he prioritized the wildlife corridor as Senate President, credited a $300 million budget allocation for the program’s recent expansion.

“By getting that defined and then promoting it to the idea that agriculture is a national security issue…we need to protect this area of the state for not only agriculture, but for the aquifer recharge and for the animals for our state,” Simpson, an egg farmer by trade, said.

Moreover, Simpson touched on balancing urban development with agricultural preservation as a key challenge as Florida’s population grows, while discussing the importance of securing development rights within the wildlife corridor to protect agricultural lands from urbanization.

“What we do not want to do is become…a state that is completely dependent upon foreigners to grow our food. Today, things can happen, a pandemic can happen, wars can happen, and…we can have populations starving to death if we don’t take care of these things,” he said.

Simpson cited legislative support for the program as instrumental in its success. He acknowledged the $100 million in recurring revenue secured for the program, while also pointing out the need for additional funding to meet the program’s goals.

“We need several billion dollars in the course of the next four or five years to really make an impact,” he stated, noting that there is substantial interest from landowners wanting to participate in the program.

Recent legislative changes allowing the Department of Agriculture to acquire easements under $5 million without board approval have streamlined the process, enabling quicker preservation of smaller farms. Simpson stated that the amendment has allowed the agency to close a proliferating number small projects in the last six to eight months. He also remarked that Florida is faced with a unique challenge due to its rapid growth and economic success as “people want to come here, open their businesses, and they are taking more and more agricultural land.”

Looking forward, Simpson commented that his vision for the future includes maintaining a safe, affordable, and abundant food supply by removing regulatory barriers for farmers and acquiring development rights to protect agricultural lands by reallocating funds from surplus state-owned lands back into the program to create a self-sustaining funding model.

“By removing the development rights…we can surplus those properties back into private hands, back into farming hands…those monies and buying more development rights, it would be a funding source for what the total goal is,” he explained.

In addition to land preservation, Simpson discussed the amendment to enshrine the right to fish and hunt in the Florida Constitution. This month, Simpson pledged $100,000 to the campaign. Upon making the donation, he claimed that fishing and hunting are “inextricably linked to our economy, our lifestyle and the conservation of our land.”

“We need to protect our rights constitutionally…there are many extremists that are trying to take our hunting and fishing rights away,” the Commissioner said.


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