JASPER, Fla. — Matt Caldwell has ambitious plans if elected as the state’s next Commissioner of Agriculture.
Caldwell, who is running for the commissioner’s seat that will be vacated by Adam Putnam, was the special guest at the Hamilton County Republican Party’s meeting Jan. 18, and shared his vision for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services — everything from finding ways to help urban and rural communities with water from the aquifer, maintaining Florida’s agriculture production, and how to handle concealed weapons as well as immigration.
Caldwell, a seventh generation Florida native, came to share his ideas and commitments to Hamilton County. He said he made a promise to visit every county in Florida during his campaign even if there would not be a large group attending.
He said he wants to provide a consistent conservative vote to the Florida Cabinet, defend the second amendment rights, restore and preserve water resources, protect and grow Florida agriculture jobs, increase Florida’s production of quality foods and protect the Florida consumers from fraud.
Caldwell said he wants to better the development of water conservation when using it in larger cities and pulling water from rivers. He said by using reservoirs when the river rises it creates water for larger cities like Jacksonville and Tampa for several months at a time.
“When you start they ask what committee you want to be on and the one I served on was Ag and Natural Resources Committee,” Caldwell said about his time in the Florida House, where he has served since 2010.
Caldwell said the state’s major issues come from the urban growth and how it affects rural counties and agriculture. Water was the main point when it came to urban growth and how much is being used between the two.
Florida is the most diverse state in the country with more than 300 different Ag products. From traditional stuff like peanuts, cotton and soybeans to tropical fruit and now there is a market of growing Asian vegetables. This will allow farms to be a 12-month farm instead of a seven-month farm.
“Continuing in connecting to farms you have the inspection stations all along the highway are a part of the department,” Caldwell said. “All of the produce and flowers that come in through our ports, we are the gateway state to all of central and southern America. If you buy a bouquet of flowers for example, anywhere in the country 90 percent of those come through Miami International Airport.
“In the department there are surveyors to the guy who changes your oil in the department. Your amusement parks are there, it really is a pretty wide range of responsibility, the county fairs, the state fair all of that comes under the department.”
Florida is the No. 1 state in the nation for concealed weapons with more than 2 million people that have joined that program, he said, adding that he is for expanding the rights of concealed weapon owners and stated that statistically the safest people in America are concealed weapon owners.
Caldwell stated they are statistically less likely to commit a crime — any crime, not just a gun crime — than a sheriff’s deputy. He has advocated for their rights and has an A-plus rating with the NRA.
Hamilton County Republican Chairman Ben Norris asked about how the Suwannee River Water Management can collect tax money with no say from the people in each county.
“The Suwannee River Water Management seems to be the most anti-constitution thing because you get taxation without representation because it is an appointed thing and can not get rid of them like our school boards,” Norris said.
Caldwell said it is something that is asked about regularly and is made up of the four cabinet members; the governor, the attorney general, the chief financial officer and the Ag commissioner. The cabinet serves as board of trustees for all the state-owned lands, which includes waterways that are public property. In turn, that puts the Department of Environmental Protection, which is where the water management districts are housed, underneath that group as well.
Another issue addressed was about the aquifer being pulled in a different direction because of urban areas developing and using water. Caldwell spoke about several of the counties in Florida having a reservoir that takes water from the river when it rises to use for the next three years.
He said farmers today use less water than 10 to 30 years ago due to new investments that help to save water. He touched on the new pivot systems that analyze each area of the crop to know which needs to be watered and will shut off individual nozzles to conserve water and not overwater the plants.
Immigration was brought forth since it is a major part in the farming culture. Caldwell said changes in society and through legislation have reduced the potential workforce on farms to mainly just immigrants. He said that he feels like Congress has failed on understanding immigration.