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Florida orange growers merit help on citrus greening

Monday, 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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