The U.S. House on Wednesday passed Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan’s bipartisan legislation to aid Florida orange growers in their battle against the predatory citrus greening disease. The bill now goes to the U.S. Senate for consideration.
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.
“Help for Florida orange farmers is a major step closer to arriving,” Buchanan said. “This bill will go a long way toward protecting the livelihoods of the 62,000 hardworking Floridians in our signature citrus industry. The story of American agriculture is one of resilience and hard work against tremendous odds. Citrus farmers are being hit hard and Congress needs to help them recover.”
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.
“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,” says Kyle Story, a citrus grower in Lake Wales, Florida. 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.”
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.
“The Senate now needs to act swiftly to get this bill to the president’s desk,” Buchanan said. He’s spoken with both of Florida’s U..S. Senators – Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio – to try to get the Senate to act as soon as next week on the bill.
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.