Buchanan’s Citrus Aid Bill a “Must Pass” After Irma
FL’s 29-Member Congressional Delegation Backs Bill
WASHINGTON – After Hurricane Irma wiped out as much as 70 percent of Florida's orange crop, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan today called for immediate action in Congress to help struggling citrus farmers recover.
“Florida farmers are facing an emergency,” Buchanan said. “Between Irma and the devastating citrus greening disease, we can't wait any longer to provide citrus growers with the relief they need.”
Prior to Hurricane Irma, the Florida citrus industry had already experienced a 75 percent drop in production due to citrus greening, an incurable bacterial disease that has infected nearly all of Florida’s commercial citrus groves.
According to Michael Sparks, executive director of Florida Citrus Mutual, Hurricane Irma had a catastrophic effect on Florida citrus. Sparks estimated that nearly every grove in the state has been damaged to some degree by the storm.
Buchanan’s Emergency Citrus Disease Response Act would make it less costly for growers to replace trees damaged by Hurricane Irma or citrus greening. The bill provides tax incentives for farmers who cannot afford to replace damaged trees.
Under current law, growers are allowed an immediate deduction for the cost of replanting 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.
“This bill will go a long way toward protecting the livelihoods of the 62,000 hardworking Floridians in our signature citrus industry,” Buchanan said.
Every member of Florida’s 29-member congressional delegation in both the U.S. House and Senate has co-sponsored Buchanan’s legislation, which passed the House by a 400-20 vote in 2016 but did not pass the Senate before Congress adjourned.
The bill has been endorsed by the Bradenton Herald, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the Lakeland Ledger, Sun Newspapers, the Panama City News Herald and the Ocala Star-Ledger. The Ledger called Buchanan's legislation a “must pass” while the Bradenton Herald said it was a “no-brainer.”
Experts estimate a 50 to 70 percent crop loss in south Florida from Hurricane Irma. Florida growers are seeing up to 90 percent losses in some places.
Shannon Stepp, executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus, said “before Hurricane Irma, there was a good chance we would have more than 75 million boxes of oranges on the trees this season; we now have much less.”
Buchanan is a senior member of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax legislation.