The Citrus & Specialty Crop Expo ventured into new territory this year — literally. After three decades at the Lee Civic Center in Fort Myers, this year’s event was held at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa. There were several factors forcing the move this year, including damage to the Lee Civic Center from Hurricane Ian.
With a new facility always comes unknowns, but the AgNet Media team worked hard, along with our seminar planning partners, and pulled off a successful event. The show was well attended and scored good praise all around.
As always, a big part of the Expo is the educational program held over the course of the two-day event. Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Wilton Simpson was the keynote speaker during the general session that kicked off the program.
Simpson, a farmer himself, was among his peers at the Expo. He outlined key priorities he has taken to the post since being elected last year. A major priority is reducing legal, regulatory and tax burdens on Florida farmers. This also was a priority when he served in the Florida Senate before being elected commissioner.
RIGHT TO FARM
The Right to Farm Act is a law aimed at protecting farmers from lawsuits. It was first passed in 1979 and needed an update. The update was signed into law after the 2021 legislative session.
Many new residents moving into rural areas near farms might take offense to the smells, dust and other farming activities they were not accustomed to in urban settings. Simpson said those activities are what make it possible for farmers to grow food. He was a supporter of updating the Right to Farm Act while in the Senate.
“Today, if you are going to sue a farm (under the updated law), you must live within a half mile of that farm. And when the farmer wins the lawsuit — and if they are using best management practices, it is nearly certain they are going to win — then you have to pay the farmer’s legal fees. So, in terms of agriculture, we have essentially eliminated these nuisance lawsuits as a major threat to our existence.”
JOIN THE TEAM
A key priority during Simpson’s first legislative session serving as commissioner was the farm tax exempt agricultural materials (TEAM) card. The card allows farmers to claim applicable sales tax exemptions in lieu of certificates or affidavits. The card is meant to streamline the process of claiming exemptions due to growers.
“Starting in January, you will be able to get the TEAM card,” Simpson said. “We pass sales tax breaks practically every year, and that includes agriculture. When you go to the counter (to make a purchase), you show your card and will not be required to fill out all the paperwork. Then you will be able to go about your business. Last year, it was estimated that farmers saved about $17 million in sales tax. This is intended to make it easier for our growers to enjoy these tax breaks.”
Simpson said another focus of his administration is preserving farms and natural lands. This is especially important in a state where more than 1,000 people are moving in per day.
When Simpson served as Senate president, he pushed through $300 million in funding for the Rural and Family Lands Act. The program buys development rights from farmers, but the land stays in farmers’ hands and control. The space continues to stay green and produce food.
“We have about $240 million (of those funds) left. We have more than $1 billion in new bids (from landowners), well over 200,000 acres. We are evaluating those now with our team and will get those put together,” he said. “We hope to go back to the legislature next year and get another round of funding for Rural and Family Lands.”
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Editor-in-Chief, AgNet Media Publications