A US relief package to be considered by Congress in October will include aid for Florida citrus farmers dealing with crop destruction from Hurricane Irma.
Republican congressman Vern Buchanan announced he was told by the Congressional Committee on Ways and Means chairman Kevin Brady, that his suggested Emergency Citrus Disease Response Act would be included in the country’s third planned aid package.
“The chairman is very aware of the crisis facing orange growers in Florida,” he said.
“I’m pleased at his dedication and commitment to help the thousands of farmers who are struggling with crops destroyed by the hurricanes.”
Buchanan proposed the legislation to Congress after Hurricane Irma tore through Florida, destroying more than 70% of the state’s orange trees, leaving a trail of uprooted trees and flooded groves.
“Florida farmers are facing an emergency,” he 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% drop in production due to citrus greening, an incurable bacterial disease that infected nearly all of the state’s commercial citrus groves, according to the Florida Department of Citrus (FDC).
Florida is the US’s top orange producer, supplying 90% of the country’s orange juice and contributes $8.6bn to the state, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
As a result of lost supply, the FDC expects the retail price of a gallon of orange juice to increase by more than 10%, from an average $6 to $8.
Buchanan’s legislation makes it less costly for growers to replace damage trees. The bill also 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 said the new legislation 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 continued 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,” he said.
The bill was first proposed in 2016 with every member of Florida’s 29-member congressional delegation in both the US House of Representatives and Senate co-sponsoring the legislation.
The bill passed the House of Representatives by a 400-20 vote in 2016 but did not pass the Senate before Congress adjourned.
Tatiana Andreyeva, director of Economic Initiatives at the Rudd Centre for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut, told the Washington Post that a 10% increase in the price of juice would cause a 7.6% decrease in sales.
“There was already a decline in demand for orange juice and the hurricane will likely just make it worse,” she said.
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