(FDACS/TALLAHASSEE, FL/Nov. 17, 2023) — Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Wilton Simpson issued the following statement ahead of the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program’s final public meeting scheduled for Monday, November 20, in Tallahassee to create a ranked list of agricultural lands eligible for protection:
“First, and most importantly, every single property on this list would be a tremendous asset to the state of Florida. These agricultural lands are key to national security and protecting our food and timber supply. Many of the properties are within Florida’s Wildlife Corridor, and if lost to development, they will likely never be put back into agricultural production. I can think of no better or more strategic land purchase investment for the state of Florida than these projects because of the partnership we have with true stewards of agriculture and our natural resources.
“If these projects are fully funded by the Legislature, Florida would realize the protection of nearly 400,000 additional acres of prime agriculture and conservation land, every property would remain on the local tax rolls, and every property owner would maintain the land according to state standards. It’s a triple win for the state.
“Creating a ranked list will be incredibly challenging. Our team listened to presentations offered by over 100 landowners and evaluated over 260 project applications. Their stories were moving and compelling, offering generational knowledge and pride in the land that helps to feed our state and nation.
“Florida law requires our department to create a ranked list of properties to guide the funding process. To assist the selection team, we worked with the University of Florida and the Florida Natural Areas Inventory to provide a technical score based on scientific metrics. We also assigned an agriculture score based on a combination of factors identified during site visits and GIS mapping features. These two scores will guide staff in developing a suggested ranked list.
“Once the list is assembled by department staff on Monday, I will review the list to ensure that our department fulfilled the statutory requirements. I will make any necessary adjustments and submit the list to the Governor and Florida Cabinet for review and approval.
“I want to thank the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program staff and the selection team for working so hard on a thorough application, evaluation, and ranking process. This was a tremendous undertaking. We have analyzed more properties and executed more agricultural conservation easements in the past 10 months than we have in the past 22 years combined since the program was first established.
“We look forward to continued investments to protect, preserve, and help foster agriculture lands in the state of Florida. Our future depends on agriculture.”