Congressman Vern Buchanan

Representing the 16th District of Florida

BREAKING: House Passes Buchanan Bill to Help FL Orange Farmers

Sep 21, 2016
Press Release
Disease Hits 99% of FL Citrus Groves

Senate Must Swiftly Pass “Game-Changer” Legislation

WASHINGTON – The U.S. House has passed Congressman Vern Buchanan’s bipartisan legislation to aid Florida orange growers in their battle against the predatory citrus greening disease. The bill now goes to the U.S. Senate for consideration.

Buchanan’s Emergency Citrus Disease Response Act will make it less costly for growers to replace trees damaged by citrus greening, an incurable bacterial disease that has infected 99 percent of Florida’s commercial citrus groves.

“Help for Florida orange farmers is a major step closer to arriving,” Buchanan said. “This bill will go a long way toward protecting the livelihoods of the 62,000 hardworking Floridians in our signature citrus industry. The story of American agriculture is one of resilience and hard work against tremendous odds. Citrus farmers are being hit hard and Congress needs to help them recover.”

The legislation provides tax incentives for farmers who cannot afford to replace trees affected by citrus greening. Under current law, growers are allowed an immediate deduction for the cost of replanting diseased trees, but the farmer must bear the full cost. Buchanan’s proposal would allow struggling farmers to use this deduction even if they bring in investors to raise capital for replanting costs, as long as the grower continues to own a major stake in the grove. It also extends this incentive to purchasers of land with diseased trees.

Farm investors could include local credit unions and banks as well as private investors.

Every member of Florida’s 29-member congressional delegation in both the U.S. House and Senate supports Buchanan’s legislation. The bill passed the House Ways and Means Committee unanimously last week.

Experts project a 26 percent decline in Florida’s signature orange crop for this upcoming season – the worst in over 50 years. The disease, also known as “yellow dragon disease,” arrived in Florida in 2005 and has since infected 99 percent of commercial citrus groves in the state – as well as 50 percent of the groves in Texas.

“The Senate now needs to act swiftly to get this bill to the president’s desk,” Buchanan said.

Buchanan has spoken with both U.S. Sens Bill Nelson, D-Fla. and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., to move the bipartisan bill through the Senate chamber as quickly as possible. Buchanan is hopeful the Senate will take action as early as next week.

Greening has begun to march across the country, and has been found in California, Louisiana, South Carolina and Georgia. Once infected, trees must be uprooted and destroyed. Replacing citrus trees is costly, but farmers have no choice. They must replant in order to earn a living. Growers face an average replacement cost of almost $2,000 per acre.

Citrus greening has caused more than $4 billion in economic damage while eliminating 8,000 jobs, according to a study done four years ago by the University of Florida. Florida Citrus Mutual, a citrus trade association, estimates that those numbers have doubled in the past four years.

A number of local citrus growers and farm groups have expressed support for Buchanan’s legislation:

  • Mike Sparks, CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual, said: “By some estimates our industry needs to put more than 20 million trees in the ground over the next 10 years to support existing infrastructure and get our production back to where it was before HLB. This legislation will help spur the desperately needed plantings. It’s a game changer and we offer a sincere thank you to Congressman Buchanan as well as other members of the Florida Congressional delegation for their support of this important bill. It is truly a bipartisan effort and reflects the fact that Florida’s elected officials understand the citrus’ vital economic role."
  • John Hoblick, president of the Florida Farm Bureau, said: “This will give our growers immediate relief to replant groves devastated by HLB, some of which may never even survive to produce fruit. We must give our citrus growers every possible tool to keep operating until a cure is found.”
  • Mark Wheeler, a citrus grower in Manatee County, Florida, said: “I want to farm. That’s what my family does but I need some protection from the tremendous production risk posed by HLB. The Emergency Citrus Disease Response Act will provide a significant incentive to put more trees in the ground by counterbalancing my upfront costs and when it becomes law I plan to take advantage of the benefits and I know other growers will too.”
  • John Hoblick, president of the Florida Farm Bureau, said: “This will give our growers immediate relief to replant groves devastated by HLB, some of which may never even survive to produce fruit. We must give our citrus growers every possible tool to keep operating until a cure is found.”
  • Kyle Story, a citrus grower in Lake Wales, Florida, said: “I am a fourth generation grower and there is not a day that passes where I do not wonder about the future of the Florida citrus industry. In order to pass the business on to my one year old son Merritt – the fifth generation – we are going to have to get more trees in the ground and that’s exactly what growers across Florida will do if the tax legislation is passed. I know a lot of people whose children are going to law school, business school or medical school to get away from citrus. I do not want my son to become a lawyer, I want him to become a citrus grower and I’m worried he won’t get that chance.”
  • Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said: “The temporary tax code change will provide the incentive growers need to increase the planting of new groves and help return citrus production to thousands of acres.”
  • Carol Freysinger, executive director of the Juice Products Association, said: “We applaud Florida Rep. Vern Buchanan’s efforts to combat the significant effects of HLB, better known as citrus greening, by introducing legislation that gives citrus growers incentives to replant, cultivate, and maintain their groves impacted by citrus greening.” 

Buchanan helped lead efforts to secure $125 million to combat citrus greening as part of a five-year farm bill that President Obama signed into law in 2014. The legislation also provided for $125 million in discretionary funding that needs to be allocated through the yearly appropriations process.

Buchanan is the only member of Congress from Florida on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. Buchanan is also co-chairman of Florida delegation and the Congressional Citrus Caucus.