The six candidates running for open seats in the Florida Legislature have something in common: agriculture. All of the candidates are active Florida Farm Bureau members and leaders, according to a bureau press release.
Unopposed Florida Senate District 18 Republican candidate, Wilton Simpson, said agriculture will be a top priority during his two-year term.
“You know, agriculture is one of the leading drivers of the economy in the state of Florida and being on a farm and understanding the unique challenges of being a farmer will affect a lot of my policy decisions,” he said.
District 18 encompasses Hernando County and most of Pasco and Sumter counties. In 2007, land dedicated to farming in Hernando, Pasco and Sumter counties was 56,237 acres, 149,963 acres and 159,789 acres, respectively, according to USDA Census of Agriculture data.
Simpson grew up on a couple of acres of land in Plant City. His family started in the painting and asbestos removal business before entering the agriculture industry.
“As a younger child, we did a lot of farming and gardening as part of our family exercise,” he said. “You know, to take care of ourselves.”
In 1978, the Simpson family moved to Dade City. In the late 1970s, Simpson’s father started the family’s first egg farm with about 64,000 chickens as a contract producer with Wallace Hatchery, Inc. By 1980, the family had about 100,000 chickens. Simpson’s father sold the egg farm in 1996.
“After my dad sold the facility in Trilby, I started a smaller one,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to be in the agriculture business and had always been around it as a kid.”
In 2002, Simpson bought back his father’s egg-laying facility from Cypress Foods and expanded it.
“It made a lot of sense,” he said, “I felt very fortunate to be in the position to buy it back.”
Today, Simpson Farms produces about 800,000 eggs a day. About one million chickens are cared for at the Trilby facility. The majority of the eggs are sold in the Tampa and Orlando areas, but also are distributed throughout Florida and the United States.
“It’s in my DNA,” he said. “So anytime issues come in front of me as it would relate to affecting the agriculture community it will be a top priority.”
Simpson is the president of Pasco County Farm Bureau’s board of directors and has been a member of the Florida Farm Bureau since the late 1970s.
“Agriculture will be a top priority,” he said. “It will be a top priority as it relates to our food source, the health of our economy, and the safe, affordable food that we need to survive.”
Melanie Peterson is running for Senate District 17, Jake Raburn is running for House District 57, Katie Edwards is running for House District 98, and Halsey Beshears and Robert Hill are both running for House District 7.
Correction appended: A previous version of this story designated Simpson Farms as a hatchery. It is, instead, an egg-laying operation.