House Expected to Pass Buchanan Bill to Save FL Oranges
“Yellow Dragon Disease” Decimates Orange Crop
WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. House is expected to pass Congressman Vern Buchanan’s bipartisan legislation to aid Florida orange growers in their battle against the ferocious citrus greening disease.
The bill passed the House Ways and Means Committee unanimously last week.
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. The legislation will be considered on the House floor later this evening.
“Florida orange farmers have been trying to survive a brutal outbreak of an unforgiving disease, so Congress must do all we can to protect the industry’s jobs,” Buchanan said. “Passing this bill will go a long way toward protecting the livelihoods of the 62,000 hardworking Floridians who form the backbone of the Sunshine State’s iconic citrus industry.”
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.
Every member of Florida’s 29-member congressional delegation in both the U.S. House and Senate supports Buchanan’s legislation.
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.
“We need to help the citrus industry get up off the carpet,” Buchanan said. “They’re part of the fabric of American life and Congress should take every opportunity to support their efforts.”
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:
- 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.