U.S.: Florida congressman urges swift passing of citrus aid bill after Irma
Florida Congressman Vern Buchanan has called for immediate action to help the state's struggling citrus industry recover in the wake of the devastating Hurricane Irma, which is said to have wiped out as much as 70% of the orange crop.
“Florida farmers are facing an emergency,” Buchanan said in a posting on his website.
“Between Irma and the devastating citrus greening disease, we can't wait any longer to provide citrus growers with the relief they need.”
He noted that prior to the storm, the Florida citrus industry had already experienced a 75% drop in production due to citrus greening disease.
Florida Citrus Mutual executive director Michael Sparks said Irma had had a catastrophic effect on Florida citrus, estimating that nearly every grove in the state had 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.
He said that 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, with growers reportedly seeing up to 90% losses in some places.
Florida Department of Citrus executive director Shannon Stepp 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.