After Hurricane Irma wiped out as much as 70 per cent of Florida's orange crop, US Rep. Vern Buchanan 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 per cent 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.
According to Buchanan, his 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 noted.
Every member of Florida’s 29-member congressional delegation in both the US 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.
Experts estimate a 50 to 70 per cent crop loss in south Florida from Hurricane Irma, while Florida growers are seeing up to 90 per cent losses in some areas.
Shannon Stepp, executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus, said: "Before Hurricane Irma, there was a good chance we would have more than 75m boxes of oranges on the trees this season; we now have much less.”