Commissioner Simpson spoke to the Club fresh from his recent duty as state Senate President which capped ten years of service in the Senate. A fifth-generation Floridian, he has deep personal and professional roots grounded in agriculture, including running a family-owned large-scale egg-laying operation that supplies supermarkets statewide with two million dozen eggs monthly.
Florida agriculture is a $180 billion per year industry, employing 2.5 million people. It is second only to tourism in its impact on the state’s economy. He said during the recent coronavirus pandemic and in deeper recessionary times, agriculture is the top industry in Florida. Beyond being an economic driver, Commissioner Simpson told the luncheon meeting that agriculture is a national security issue, too.
“You should thank a farmer three times a day. We just got finished eating food that was grown by a farmer. And if you don’t put it in national security terms, think of it like going to the grocery store for a week with no groceries there. Think about two weeks. Then it becomes a national security issue in a hurry, right?” Simpson posed.
He said agriculture “should be elevated to that lens” when discussing further regulation on farmers. The majority of farms are using best management practices and the fertilizer and waste runoff “coming off most farms is a thimbleful of nutrient load relative to the five gallons of nutrient load that’s being created around them.” He said water use for most crops has also been reduced from 50% to 80% over the last 20 or 30 years.
Commissioner Simpson said 80% of vegetables grown on the eastern seaboard of the country is grown in the Palm Beach and Everglades Agricultural Area. “There are people who want to shut all of that agriculture area down…(and if so)…we’d clearly have to try to import a lot more food.” He made an analogy to Germany’s decision thirty years ago to rely on Russia for its natural gas, the supply of which was cut-off by Russia during the Ukraine War. “So if you want to entrust your enemies with your energy supply, at your own peril do so. If you want to trust them with your food supply, at your own peril do so,” he said.
To help preserve farmland and safeguard the environment, Simpson said the state last year appropriated $300 million to the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program. The program purchases future development rights from farmers, letting farmers manage the land and keeping properties on the public tax rolls. The investment is three times the amount spent since the program’s inception 20 years ago. He also noted the recent sales tax reduction on farm supplies and the “Right to Farm” law to protect agriculture from nuisance lawsuits.
Commissioner Simpson also discussed his initiative to restrict the purchase or lease of Florida farmland and land around military bases by nonresident aliens, foreign businesses and corporations, or foreign governments.
As for the recent price surge of eggs in the grocery store, Commissioner Simpson said that although the worldwide Avian flu has mostly impacted Midwest flocks, “the price is all based on supply and demand, just like any other commodity quoted on the New York Stock Exchange.” He said the Avian flu has taken out about 20% of the birds that lay eggs, resulting in prices increasing from $2 per dozen to $6 over the winter, which is now receding. He shared some of the general security and bio-security protocols in place on Florida farms to prevent disease and other contamination.
(You can also view the entire Club meeting on YouTube.)