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Vern Buchanan says aid for citrus growers will be part of new hurricane relief bill

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Help is on the way to Florida’s citrus growers who have seen crops devastated by Hurricane Irma.

That’s according to Sarasota Congressman Vern Buchanan, who says House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady assured him that his legislation — the Emergency Citrus Disease Response Act — will be part of the next hurricane relief package Congress will consider next month.

“The chairman is very aware of the crisis facing orange growers in Florida, Texas, California and other states,” Buchanan said. “I’m pleased [with] his dedication and commitment to help the thousands of farmers who are struggling with crops destroyed by the hurricanes.”

The Florida Department of Citrus estimates that 30 to 70 percent of Florida’s citrus crop was destroyed by the impact of Irma ripping up the state earlier this month. Buchanan’s bill would make it less costly for growers to replace trees damaged by Irma or by citrus greening. The bill will provide tax incentives for farmers who can’t 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 significant stake in the grove.

Congress already has passed one $15 billion hurricane aid bill and is expected to pass another tomorrow helping families and individuals recover through temporary tax relief. Buchanan’s measure will be added to a third aid bill next month.

Florida’s citrus industry was already in decline thanks to citrus greening, the debilitating disease which causes bitter and deformed fruits that were first diagnosed in Florida in 2005. It has reduced Florida’s orange and grapefruit revenue by $4.64 billion, according to Jacqueline Burns, the dean for research at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

The price for orange juice is expected to rise nationally due to Irma, with predictions of prices rising as much as $2.30 more for a gallon of orange juice.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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