A unique land-rights purchasing program is preserving parcels across the Sunshine State, despite suffering a setback during the 2023 Legislative Session.
Following Florida Cabinet approval, Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson announced a pair of acquisitions by the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, which had a rough time in Tallahassee earlier this year when Gov. Ron DeSantis used his line-item veto power to take away $100 million that the Legislature put toward the program.
Despite the veto, there appears a cordial atmosphere between DeSantis and Simpson. Simpson, a Republican endorsed by DeSantis during the 2022 election, thanked the Governor and the rest of the Cabinet in a statement.
“I appreciate Governor DeSantis and my fellow Cabinet members for their support of this program and the preservation of these critically important lands,” Simpson said.
Simpson had harsher words following the June veto, when he said publicly that there was “no conceivable reason to target agriculture” when the state had robust fiscal reserves.
“Agriculture was harmed today and so was the state of Florida,” Simpson said at the time.
Using conservation easements that restrict development rights, the Cabinet announcement today guarantees that another 13,371 acres of working agricultural lands will remain as such in Osceola and Highlands counties.
With the latest deal, nearly 100,000 acres have been preserved by the program, established in 2001. It’s a productive period for agriculture preservation too. The Legislature infused the Rural and Family Lands Program with $300 million in 2022 — three times as much as lawmakers had previously put towards the coffer over the course of the past two decades.
This time around, the easements encumber Adams Ranch and Buck Island Ranch.
It’s the fourth conservation easement on the Adams Ranch property, 60% of which now features easements preventing development. Buck Island Ranch is an elite cow-calf operation.
“Today’s partnerships with Buck Island Ranch and Adams Ranch protect over 13,000 acres of agriculturally productive, economically significant, and environmentally rich Florida ranchlands,” Simpson said.
Conservation is a priority for Simpson, a former leader of the Florida Senate. During his time presiding over the upper chamber, Simpson successfully championed the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act, which directed the state to better protect and connect Florida’s natural areas and wildlife habitats and to preserve working agricultural lands from future development.