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Florida Citrus Mutual Thanks Supporters of Farm Bill

January 30th, 2014 by tamara

LAKELAND, Fla. (January 30, 2014) – The country’s largest citrus grower organization offered members of the Florida Congressional delegation a sincere “Thank You” Thursday; a day after the U.S. House of Representatives approved a Farm Bill containing $125 million in citrus research funding over the next five years.

“The vast majority of Florida’s House members stepped up to the plate on behalf of agriculture to pass a solid Farm Bill that directs our nation’s farm policy in the right direction for the next five years,” said Michael W. Sparks, executive VP/CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual. “The investment in citrus research is going to go a long way in uncovering solutions to citrus greening disease which in turn will help preserve a way of life for communities across Florida.”

“So to Representatives Bilirakis, Brown, Buchanan, Castor, Crenshaw, Diaz-Balart, Frankel, Garcia, Hastings, Murphy, Nugent, Rooney, Ross, Ros-Lehtinen, Southerland, Wasserman Schultz, Webster and Yoho I say ‘Thank You’!” Sparks said. “Of course Senator Bill Nelson on the Senate side, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack have been huge in this effort as well.”

The citrus research initiative will be overseen by Secretary Vilsack, in consultation with industry stakeholders from Florida, California and Texas. A committee made up of nine representatives from those states will make funding decisions which must be approved by the Secretary.

Citrus greening is a bacterial disease vectored by the Asian citrus psyllid. It attacks the vascular system of a tree and can kill it within two years. Citrus greening is endemic to Florida and can be found in all 32 commercial citrus producing counties.

The Florida citrus industry creates a $9 billion annual economic impact, employing nearly 76,000 people, and covering about 530,000 acres. Founded in 1948, Florida Citrus Mutual is the state’s largest citrus grower organization. For more information, visit www.flcitrusmutual.com. To receive winter weather updates follow FCM on Twitter.

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FCM Says Irma Damage Threw Off USDA Citrus Crop Estimate

October 12th, 2017 by tamara

LAKELAND, FL (October 12, 2017) – Florida’s largest citrus grower organization said Thursday the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s initial estimate of the 2017-2018 citrus crop is well above the crop predicted by the results of their grower damage survey.

Florida Citrus Mutual believes the agency could not accurately account for the full extent of the catastrophic damage from Hurricane Irma. Historically, the USDA has a high margin of error in crop years with a natural disaster.

“I’m disappointed the USDA did not delay the traditional October crop estimate until more data could be collected to fully assess the damage wrought by Irma,” said Michael W. Sparks, executive VP/CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual. “Irma hit us just a month ago and although we respect the skill and professionalism of the USDA, there is no way they can put out a reliable number in that short time period.”

On September 10, 2017 Hurricane Irma moved through the center of the state hitting Florida’s major citrus producing regions with up to 120 mph winds. The hurricane blew fruit off the tree and caused widespread tree damage. An FCM survey of growers conducted post Irma pegged total fruit loss at more than 50 percent with some reports of 100 percent fruit loss in the Southwest part of the state.

The USDA makes its first estimate in October of each year and revises it monthly as the crop takes shape until the end of the season in July. For more information go to https://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/Florida/Publications/Citrus/

The USDA’s total orange forecast is for 54 million boxes, made up of 23 million Early and Midseason and 31 million boxes of Valencias. The total grapefruit forecast is for 4.9 million boxes, with whites at 900,000 and colored at 4 million boxes. Total specialty comes in at 1 million boxes.

Mutual’s grower survey predicted the 2017-2018 orange crop closer to 31 million boxes.

“The long-term effect of Irma on our industry will take years to sort out,” Sparks said. “We had groves underwater and those trees aren’t just going to bounce back and continue producing fruit. They are gone.”

“Just like when the hurricanes hit in 2004-2005 and dramatically re-shaped out industry. Irma was a historic event that dealt Florida citrus a major blow.”

The Florida citrus industry creates a $8.6 billion annual economic impact, employing nearly 46,000 people, and covering about 450,000 acres. Founded in 1948, Florida Citrus Mutual is the state’s largest citrus grower organization. For more information, visit www.flcitrusmutual.com. Follow FCM on Twitter @FLCITRUSMUTUAL

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Hurricane Irma Survey

September 19th, 2017 by tamara

Dear Mutual Members and Friends:

I hope this finds you well and in recovery mode. We are eyeing the current storm activity in the Gulf and are cautiously optimistic none will follow the path of Irma.

Thank you so much to those of you who have answered our short Irma damage survey. The information will go a long way to provide Legislators, the industry and officials with a baseline to create a financial assistance program as well as support the various legislative asks we are pursuing at the state and federal level to get citrus trees back in the ground.

To those of you who have not sent us the survey, please take a few minutes and do it now. I cannot emphasize how important it is to have this information quickly and accurately.

Send your answers to floridacitrusmutual@yahoo.com .

Questions:

1) What county(s) and how many acres do you manage?

2) Estimate total fruit loss as a percentage

3) Estimate the acute wind damage to trees as a percentage

4) Estimate acres in standing water as total acres and as a percentage

Please forward this email to every grower you know – they may not be on our distribution list and we need as much data as possible. We hope that you can favor us with a response by Thursday September 21. However, we will incorporate subsequent responses.

Thanks for your help on this and we will keep you updated as information comes in.

Regards,

Mike Sparks
Executive VP/CEO

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Fruit Juice for Kids: A Serving a Day OK

March 24th, 2017 by tamara

From the Helena Independent Record, March 23, 2017

THURSDAY, March 23, 2017 (HealthDay News) — Pediatricians have long suggested that fruit juice may prompt weight gain in children, but a new review finds it harmless when consumed in moderation.

“Based on the current evidence, we didn’t find that consuming one serving [of 100-percent fruit juice] a day contributes to weight gain in children,” said study author Dr. Brandon Auerbach. He is acting instructor of medicine at the University of Washington, in Seattle.

To come to that conclusion, the investigators analyzed the results of eight published studies involving over 34,000 children that looked at fruit juice intake and the effect on weight.

Children under the age of 6 who drank a serving a day gained a small amount of weight, but not enough to be clinically significant, the findings showed.

The amount was truly tiny, less than a pound over a year’s time, Auerbach noted. And the review did not prove that fruit juice consumption caused the weight gain.

In addition, children aged 7 to 18 who drank a serving a day saw no clinical effects on weight, the researchers said.

The younger children favored apple juice, while the older ones were more likely to drink orange juice. The study authors explained that orange juice, which has a lower glycemic index, may be linked with less weight gain. Food and drink with a lower glycemic index are linked with lower and slower rises in blood sugar levels.

The researchers stressed that their report specifically focused on 100-percent fruit juice, not fruit-flavored drinks or fruit sodas.

Senior study author, Dr. James Krieger, is executive director of Healthy Food America. He said, “The evidence on weight gain, diabetes [risk] and other health conditions for [drinking] sugar-sweetened beverages — like soda and fruit drinks — is very solid.”

What has been debated, according to Krieger, is whether sugar in 100-percent fruit juice is linked with the same health effects.

For now, Krieger and Auerbach said, they advise parents to follow the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations for 100-percent fruit juice consumption: 4 to 6 ounces a day for children aged 6 and younger, and 8 to 12 ounces a day for kids aged 7 to 18.

Connie Diekman, director of university nutrition for Washington University in St. Louis, said that the new findings put the issue in perspective.
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“Concerns around childhood obesity have caused many to try to find ‘the food’ that is the cause,” Diekman explained.

“This study did a nice job in assessing the impact of 100-percent fruit juice on weight, a food often blamed for the growing incidence of childhood obesity,” she said.

“As a registered dietitian, this study reinforces the messages I provide my clients: 100-percent fruit juice — not fruit drinks or beverages — can fit into a healthful eating plan. But it is important, as with all foods, to learn portion sizes,” Diekman stressed.

“In addition, I always remind people that whole fruit — whether fresh, frozen or canned — can provide more satiety since we don’t seem to recognize fullness from liquids, while we do from solids,” she said.

The study was published online March 23 in the journal Pediatrics.

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Albritton Announces Candidacy for Florida Senate District 26

February 8th, 2017 by tamara

Today, State Representative Ben Albritton announced that he has filed to become a candidate for the Florida Senate in District 26. First elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2010, Albritton represents District 56, which includes all of DeSoto and Hardee Counties as well as the southern portions of Polk County.

“It has truly been an honor to serve Florida’s Heartland for the past seven years,” said Albritton. “If given the opportunity, I want to continue the fight for the conservative reforms that protect and grow jobs here at home, that make our communities safer, and that value the lives of all Floridians.”

Known for his strong conservative record, Albritton has been a staunch advocate in the Florida House for entrepreneurs, Second Amendment rights, and the unborn. He is especially proud of his work on behalf of children in Florida’s foster care system. In Tallahassee, he is the Chair of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee and Vice Chair of the House Natural Resources and Public Lands Subcommittee. He also sits on the Appropriations Committee, the Agriculture and Property Rights Subcommittee, and the Government Accountability Committee and currently serves as the Chair of the Polk County Legislative Delegation.

Albritton is a citrus grower and businessman, working in a family-run business where he feels privileged to work and spend time with members of his family. He is a devoted husband to his wife, Missy, and together they are proud parents of three children: Rebecca, Joshua, and Ryan. They are members of First Christian Church of Wauchula, where Albritton serves as an elder.

District 26 is currently held by Senator Denise Grimsley, who recently filed as a candidate for Florida Commissioner of Agriculture. Centered in Florida’s Heartland, the district covers parts of Charlotte, Lee, and Polk Counties as well as all of DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands, and Okeechobee Counties.

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Thoughts from the Field

February 6th, 2017 by tamara

Growers continue to pick what’s left of the early and mid-season and navel crop. It continues be a mixed bag out in the groves; one grove looks rough then you go down the road and groves look great it just depends on the care they’ve received.

Years ago grove care was basically all the same but now of course it’s a new ballgame. Production practices are completely different and growers are adapting… It certainly costs more than it ever has to produce a box of fruit. I’ve noticed with reduced root systems it appears that growers applying slow release fertilizer are having better results.

There is quite a bit of bloom out there right now at first it appeared on the weaker trees but now healthy trees are blooming. Growers have been applying PFD spray since early January due to this early bloom and it looks like they will have to continue as the bloom is going to be drawn out and spotty.

Recent cool weather may help to retard the bloom a little but with rains and the weather warming up growers say full bloom is just around the corner.

The good news is that I sense a little more optimism in the field and county extension folks are reporting more planting in some areas with growers utilizing the new HLB tolerant rootstocks. Some of the new plantings are fresh fruit varieties ,especially easy peel and seedless.

There are also navel and round oranges going in the ground. Growers appear to be taking advantage of the different assistance programs offered to help them replant as well as removing dead and dying trees.
In closing, I urge growers to participate in programs your county extension folks are offering. Highlands County for instance has a whole slate of great meetings scheduled for the month of February. Get with your local extension and get involved. If you know someone that is not a member of Mutual let me know, we will sign them up!

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Sparks Heads 2017 Hall of Fame Class

December 12th, 2016 by tamara

FLORIDA CITRUS HALL OF FAME INDUCTEES CHOSEN FOR 2017

LAKELAND, Fla. (December 9, 2016) – The Selection Committee for The Florida Citrus Hall of Fame has announced three distinguished leaders will be inducted into the Hall during the 55th Citrus Celebration Luncheon on Friday, March 10, 2017 at Florida Southern College in Lakeland.

James H. “Jim” Ellis, of Bartow, Fla., T. Ralph Robinson (deceased), and Michael W. Sparks, of Apollo Beach, Fla., will be honored at the luncheon, scheduled to take place at 11:30 a.m. in the Hollis Wellness Center.

Jim Ellis has led a distinguished career for decades in the Florida citrus industry as a grower, packer, industry representative and historian. He is currently in charge of the Citrus License & Bonds in the Division of Fruits & Vegetables for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. A graduate of Florida Southern College, he was president of the Citrus Club and received the Florida Citrus Mutual Award for Outstanding Achievement in the field of citrus studies. As general manager of Lake Garfield Packing, he introduced the first electronic sorter to the state of Florida, experimented with cutting and scoring grapefruit, applying a sweetener and shrink wrapping them to market as a breakfast item, along with different forms of automated fruit harvesting equipment. He served on numerous boards, including stints as president for the Polk County Farm Bureau, Florida Citrus Showcase and the Interior Seald-Sweet Shippers, Inc. His passion for the citrus industry and its history has led him to collect numerous artifacts, and he has one of the largest collections of Florida citrus crate labels in the world, which is the nucleus for the Florida Citrus Label Digital Collection at Florida Southern College. His collection has been used in three books on citrus labels, and in the newly developed Polk County Citrus Label Driving Tour, which is part of the county’s History & Heritage program. Dr. Calvin Arnold noted “Jim really gives to the industry from his heart, with no expectation of personal gain – his passion IS the citrus industry.”

T. Ralph Robinson (1876-1967) was a native of Syracuse, NY, but moved to Terra Ceia, Fla. in 1910. A graduate of Syracuse University, he went to work for the USDA in 1901 working in plant physiology investigations. He spent over 30 years working on the development of new citrus varieties, managing test plantings in 25 different sections of the state. He was primarily responsible for the commercial production of Orlando and Minneola tangelos, and the Robinson tangerine was named for him because of his expert work in citrus breeding. He was part of a team of scientists that included Hall of Fame member Walter Swingle who were among the earliest to experiment with cross-pollination in citrus to develop new varieties. He was a past president of the Florida State Horticultural Society and his biography is listed in “American Men of Science” and in “Who’s Who,” along with approximately 80 titles of papers he wrote on horticultural subjects.

Mike Sparks has dedicated his entire professional career to the Florida citrus industry, starting with the Florida Department of Citrus (FDOC) where he worked for 29 years in various capacities: as CFO, Director of Administration, Deputy Executive Director and Interim Executive Director. As such, he worked under six different Executive Directors and 87 Citrus Commissioners during very tumultuous times, which resulted in restructuring within the FDOC. For the last ten years, he has been the Executive Vice President and CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual (FCM) in Lakeland, Fla., which is the largest citrus grower trade association in the world. Under his leadership, FCM has been able to secure unprecedented funding both on behalf of the Florida citrus industry and for national USDA programs such as CHRP, MAC and APHIS, as well as citrus and marketing programs. His efforts also led to significant long-term appropriations for pest and disease research, including $125 million in mandatory Farm Bill funding directed primarily at citrus greening research, and trade victories on tariff protection, including anti-dumping actions, which resulted in almost $16 million to FCM members. Dan Gunter, former Executive Director of the FDOC, noted: “Mike is energetic, intelligent and he has integrity. He’s always served the industry and his work has had a positive impact on a number of challenging issues.”

The induction luncheon ceremonies will take place on Friday, March 10, 2017 in the Hollis Wellness Center at Florida Southern College, Lakeland. Invitations will go out in January, and ticket information will be available on the web site, www.FloridaCitrusHallofFame.com, later this month. For more information, contact Brenda Eubanks Burnette at (561) 351-4314 or BBurne1003@aol.com.

The Florida Citrus Hall of Fame honors distinguished leaders who have made significant contributions to the Florida citrus industry. The Citrus Hall of Fame display and Archive Center is located within the McKay Archive Building at Florida Southern College in Lakeland. For more information on members of the Citrus Hall of Fame, visit the web site at www.FloridaCitrusHallofFame.com which includes access to biographies and photos on all members, noting their accomplishments and including various industry links.

Tickets to the luncheon, which is co-sponsored by Florida Citrus Mutual and The Florida Department of Citrus, are $100 for Patron Seating or $1,500 for a Sponsor Table, which includes preferred seating for 8, table signage and a listing in the program. The event will be followed by the Florida Citrus Processors’ Association’s OJ “Meet & Greet” with the inductees as they unveil their names on the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame Tree, located in the McKay Archives Center. An educational citrus exhibit will be featured during the month of March and tours of the Citrus Archives will be provided by the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame Fellowship students on the day of the event. Shuttles will provide transportation between the Hollis Wellness Center and the McKay Archives Center, where the main parking lot is located. A portion of the proceeds from all ticket sales will go to fund an Educational Outreach program to promote the history of the Florida citrus industry.

To purchase tickets, please call Florida Citrus Mutual at (863) 682-1111 or visit the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame website at www.FloridaCitrusHallofFame.com. For more information on sponsorship opportunities, please contact Brenda Eubanks Burnette at (561) 351-4314 or via email at BBurne1003@aol.com.

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Florida orange growers merit help on citrus greening

November 28th, 2016 by tamara

Special column by Rep. Vern Buchanan to the Bradenton Herald – November 23, 2016

Florida orange farmers: Help is on the way!

Florida’s orange farmers are in the fight of their life, and more than 60,000 jobs are at risk.

The culprit? Citrus greening, an incurable bacterial disease that is rapidly spreading across the state’s groves. 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.

From sunrise to sundown, every season, these farmers have seen the destruction that citrus greening has caused since it surfaced in South Florida nearly a decade ago.

They’ve seen the dead roots, the small, discolored fruit, and the drop in production. They’ve watched as family farms, handed down from generation to generation, have spiraled into jeopardy, and later into foreclosure. In fact, right in our district, we have some longtime citrus farms that have even started to plant other crops, like bamboo, to make sure their business stays viable.

In fact, the incurable bacterial disease 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. And Florida Citrus Mutual, our state’s leading citrus association, estimates that those numbers have doubled in the past four years.

The tens of thousands of employees in the citrus industry are understandably worried.

Recently, a fourth-generation Florida farmer told me that “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.”

I’m doing my best to make sure all Floridians, including his son, can make a good living on the family farm for years to come.

In September, the U.S. House passed my bill to aid Florida orange growers in their battle against the citrus greening. The Emergency Citrus Disease Response Act was supported by every single member of Congress from Florida, Republican and Democrat alike, which underscores the fact that bipartisan cooperation can still happen in Washington.

There is one roadblock left before this bill can get signed into law: the U.S. Senate. I am hopeful that the Senate will be able to pass this legislation soon so it can get signed into law.

My bill would make it less costly for struggling farmers to replace trees afflicted with citrus greening by lowering the tax burden associated with planting their crop.

Our tax code provides a benefit to farmers that replant diseased trees, but only if they bear the full amount of cost. My bill would let struggling farmers use this deduction even if they bring in investors to raise capital for replanting costs.

Once it’s signed into law, the bill will go a long way toward protecting the livelihoods of the hard-working Floridians in our signature citrus industry.

Citrus farmers are being hit hard and my bill will help them recover. The story of American agriculture is one of resilience and hard work against tremendous odds. Let’s work together to get this bipartisan legislation over the finish line so we can continue that story.

Congressman Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, represents Florida’s 16th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, which includes Manatee County. In the November election, he won re-election and will soon serve his sixth term in the House. He is Florida’s only member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Read more here: http://www.bradenton.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article116674573.html#storylink=cpy

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Florida Citrus Mutual sells Lakeland Property

November 11th, 2016 by tamara

LAKELAND, FL (November 10, 2016) -Florida Citrus Mutual announced today the trade organization has sold its downtown Lakeland headquarters to Publix Super Markets Inc. for an undisclosed amount.

FCM has been at the site – located at the southeast corner of Orange Street and Massachusetts Avenue – for 68 years.

“Florida Citrus Mutual had a long run here and there have been a lot of important decisions made in this building that have shaped the direction of the Florida citrus industry, so this decision was not made lightly,” said Michael W. Sparks, executive VP/CEO of FCM. “Our Board of Directors believes now is the right time to sell. We couldn’t have a better buyer. Publix is the pinnacle of professionalism and we appreciate their diligence in making this happen.”

The deal encompasses the 21,000 square foot, two-story building and the city block bordered by Massachusetts and Orange as well as Lime Street and Iowa Avenue. The parcel overlooks Lake Morton and has garnered much interest over the years. He said Mutual’s staff and executive committee is now looking for a new headquarters somewhere in Polk County.

FCM once employed more than 75 people in the building known for its art deco design and unfinished wood paneling interior. But that number has dwindled with the shrinking citrus crop and now Mutual and a handful of tenants occupy it. The current tenants will vacate the building prior to August 31, 2017.

The high profile façade and neon Mutual sign at 411 E. Orange Street was a well-known landmark to Lakeland residents and the citrus industry before it was covered up two decades ago in favor of a more traditional look.

The Florida citrus industry creates a $10.8 billion annual economic impact, employing nearly 62,000 people, and covering about 500,000 acres. Founded in 1948, Florida Citrus Mutual is the state’s largest citrus grower organization. For more information, visit www.flcitrusmutual.com. Follow FCM on Twitter @FLCITRUSMUTUAL.

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U.S. House Gives Citrus Tax Incentive Overwhelming Bipartisan Support

September 21st, 2016 by tamara

LAKELAND, FL (September 21, 2016) – The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a measure Wednesday that provides growers with an incentive to plant more trees and bolster the ailing Florida citrus industry.

By a 400-20 vote, Republicans and Democrats approved the Emergency Citrus Disease Response Act which allows growers to immediately expense the cost of planting new citrus instead of the standard 14-year depreciation period under the current IRS rules.

The tweak to the IRS code is designed to increase slumping production. It would be available for 10 years. To view H.R. 3957 go to https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/3957. The House Ways and Means Committee passed it last week.

“Through this legislation small, medium and large growers will have the opportunity to seek capital from lenders and outside investors to reinvest in Florida citrus,” said Michael W. Sparks, executive VP/CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual. “We believe the tax incentive will help yield a positive return on an investment in citrus. We need to attract capital to rebound from HLB and this measure is an important tool to get us there.”

FCM estimates the Florida citrus industry needs to put more than 20 million trees in the ground over the next 10 years to support existing infrastructure and get production back to where it was before HLB.

Sparks thanked U.S. Rep Vern Buchanan (R-FL), the bill’s primary sponsor, as well as U.S. Reps. Tom Rooney (R-FL) and Dennis Ross (R-FL) and the entire Florida delegation.

“What a job by our friends in the House,” he said. “We look forward to working with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) to move the bill in the Senate.”

Florida growers are now battling HLB, a bacterial disease vectored by the Asian citrus psyllid. It attacks the vascular system of a tree and can kill it within two years. Citrus greening is endemic to Florida and has reduced production more than 50 percent over the past decade.

The Florida citrus industry creates a $10.7 billion annual economic impact, employing nearly 62,000 people, and covering about 500,000 acres. Founded in 1948, Florida Citrus Mutual is the state’s largest citrus grower organization. For more information, visit www.flcitrusmutual.com. Follow FCM on Twitter @FLCITRUSMUTUAL.

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FCM Applauds House Ways and Means Committee for Passing Citrus Bill

September 14th, 2016 by tamara

LAKELAND, FL (September 14, 2016) – Florida Citrus Mutual on Wednesday applauded the House Ways and Means Committee for passing a measure that would provide growers with an incentive to plant more trees and bolster the ailing Florida citrus industry.

Committee member U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) is the primary sponsor of the bill called The Emergency Citrus Disease Response Act which allows growers to immediately expense the cost of planting new citrus instead of the standard 14-year depreciation period under the current IRS rules. The tweak to the IRS code is designed to increase slumping production. It would be available for 10 years. To view H.R. 3957 go to https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/3957

“The strong committee vote is a clear message: we must do all we can to protect American jobs,” Buchanan said. “We are one step closer to protecting the livelihoods of the 62,000 hardworking Floridians who form the backbone of the Sunshine State’s iconic citrus industry.”

Michael W. Sparks, executive VP/CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual added; “The approval by the Ways and Means Committee is a huge first step in getting the bill passed by both the House and the Senate. We offer a sincere thank you to Congressman Buchanan and Chairman Brady as well as the other sponsors for their support of this important bill. It is truly a bipartisan effort and reflects the fact that our elected officials understand citrus’ vital economic role.”

“By some estimates our industry needs to put more than 20 million trees in the ground over the next 10 years to support existing infrastructure and get our production back to where it was before HLB. This legislation will help spur the desperately needed plantings. It’s a game changer.”

The entire Florida delegation is co-sponsoring the bill.

In the Senate, original sponsor U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) was joined by U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) earlier this year as a champion of the bill. The Senate is expected to consider the legislation later this year.

Florida growers are now battling citrus greening, or HLB, a bacterial disease vectored by the Asian citrus psyllid. It attacks the vascular system of a tree and can kill it within two years. Citrus greening is endemic to Florida and has reduced production more than 50 percent over the past decade.

The Florida citrus industry creates a $10.7 billion annual economic impact, employing nearly 62,000 people, and covering about 500,000 acres. Founded in 1948, Florida Citrus Mutual is the state’s largest citrus grower organization. For more information, visit www.flcitrusmutual.com. Follow FCM on Twitter @FLCITRUSMUTUAL.

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