Wilton Simpson Ready to Take Ag Commissioner Reins

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By Frank Giles

Wilton Simpson won his bid to become Florida’s next commissioner of agriculture and leader of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) in November. The fifth-generation Floridian from Trilby, Florida, is an egg farmer and brings a legislative background to his new job. We asked Simpson about his background and the priorities he will bring to the commissioner post.

Wilton Simpson

How will being a farmer inform your new job as agriculture commissioner?

SIMPSON: Nobody can outwork a Florida farmer. We don’t take days off, and we never take our hands off the wheel. Being a farmer makes me an optimistic problem solver because it is how I live every day in the field of agriculture.

Floridians benefit from having working people in positions of leadership. We bring the needs of everyday people to the halls of the Capitol. Government must be exercised with proper restraint and common sense. If not, it can be horribly abusive and damaging to law-abiding citizens. From a technical, practical and visionary perspective, I believe having a farmer as the commissioner of agriculture will be a positive force for good.

How will your previous legislative experience help you in the new post?

SIMPSON: The legislature has a great influence in the direction of government because it holds the purse strings and writes all the laws. I served in the Florida Senate for the past 10 years, and as senate president for my final two years. I understand the mechanics of lawmaking and budget writing. The relationships developed over the past decade and the understanding of what goes on “behind the curtain” will (hopefully) translate into more resources for the agency and our ability to impact policy.

What will be your first actions once you have been sworn into office?

SIMPSON: I am deeply concerned about the threat of foreign governments purchasing agriculture lands and property around our military bases. I am putting forth a bill to ban that practice because our food supply chain is a matter of state and national security. I will guard our freedoms vigilantly.

Another priority is environmental safety. There is a great deal of debris left (in the Panhandle) from Hurricane Michael that still needs to be removed. The danger of wildfires in the upcoming dry season is real. I will be asking the legislature to implement a program that combines controlled burns and robust reforestation.

As senate president, I was able to secure the largest appropriation in the history of the department for the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program. I also championed the creation of the Wildlife Corridors which was signed into law. I will be asking the legislature to continue to invest in our conservation and preservation efforts.

There are many more ideas to come. I have already undertaken a “stem to stern” review of the department and have identified many areas where we can better serve Floridians.

As more people move to Florida, how do you plan to bridge the gap between our urban and rural communities?

Simpson: Rural and urban communities can live in harmony in Florida. Everyone needs to eat, and therefore we all share the same core interest. I am especially proud that one of my highest priority legislative initiatives is now law — Florida’s Right to Farm Act. In order to successfully coexist, we must have laws that appropriately prioritize conflicting wants and needs. The Right to Farm Act is a perfect example of setting the priorities based on the greatest good for all Floridians.

We need to protect our producers, while also ensuring that agriculture adheres to best management practices and proven science-based solutions.

BMPs have been in the news a lot in the past few years. How do you plan to work with growers to ensure this program is workable, while at the same time protecting water resources?

SIMPSON: It’s pretty simple. We are going to make decisions based on science and not on political agendas.

After serving your term, what do you hope to have accomplished as agriculture commissioner?

SIMPSON: Above all, I want to ensure that Florida can continue to provide the safest, most abundant and affordable food supply in the nation and the world. Equally important is that we do so in a pristine natural environment. It is a big job, but I am looking forward to beginning in January.