Recognizing that Florida citrus growers have their backs to the wall, Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, announced the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee will vote Wednesday on his bipartisan legislation to aid farmers struggling with the spread of greening, an incurable bacterial disease.
Some call it a potential “game-changer” because it would invite fresh investment, helping to rebuild the battered industry.
The Emergency Citrus Disease Response Act would provide tax incentives for farmers who cannot afford to replace trees affected by citrus greening. Greening has been called an existential threat to Florida’s No. 1 agricultural crop, hitting virtually every commercial grove.
Currently, growers are allowed an immediate deduction for the cost of replanting diseased trees, but the farmer must bear the full cost.
Congress should do all it can to support jobs. My bill will help protect Florida’s iconic orange trees as well as the livelihoods of 62,000 Floridians who work in the citrus industry.
Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota
Buchanan’s proposal would allow farmers to use the 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. The incentive would also be extended to purchasers of land with diseased trees.
Janet Mixon, co-owner of Mixon Fruit Farm in Bradenton, welcomed the news Tuesday.
Even though the citrus industry, state and federal governments have invested more than $200 million in research during the past decade to fight greening, none of that money goes to hard-pressed farmers, Mixon said.
“I informed Rep. Buchanan at a Marauders game that we are not seeing any of that money,” Mixon said.
“They need to get the money to the farmer and get it into the grove,” she said. “We are doing some research of our own and it’s expensive.”
The Ways and Means Committee will meet at 3 p.m. Wednesday.
“Congress should do all it can to support jobs,” Buchanan said. “My bill will help protect Florida’s iconic orange trees as well as the livelihoods of 62,000 Floridians who work in the citrus industry.”
Experts project a 26 percent decline in the state’s orange crop for this upcoming season – the worst in more than 50 years, according to a press release by Buchanan’s office.
The Florida’s congressional delegation unanimously supports the legislation. The bill has also been endorsed by Florida Citrus Mutual, the Florida Farm Bureau Federation and the American Farm Bureau Federation.
26 Projected percentage decline in the state’s orange crop for this upcoming season, the worst in more than 50 years
Michael W. Sparks, executive director of Florida Citrus Mutual, said the bill has the potential to be a game-changer by attracting new investment to the industry.
After 10 years of losing trees and boxes of fruit, and dealing with higher production costs, research is showing ways that the disease can be combated, Sparks said.
He estimated that growers have lost 20 million trees to greening, and the new bill offers promise that they could begin replanting those trees.