On Tuesday the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) adjusted its forecast, indicating an even further drop in orange production in Florida than its original grim projections.
Last month, NASS unveiled its October crop predicting less output across the board for several types of oranges in Florida, forecasting all oranges at 80 million boxes, down 17 percent from last year. But on Tuesday, NASS lowered it even further, down to 74 million boxes.
The one bright spot for Florida’s citrus industry back in October was an increase in frozen orange juice, moving up to 1.61 gallons per box, up 7 percent from 1.50 gallons last year. But that number also dropped on Tuesday, down to 1.58 gallons per box.
The decline in Florida citrus in recent years is mostly the result of Huanglongbing (HLB), better known as citrus greening.
Spread by the Asian citrus psyllid, a tiny insect, citrus greening infects trees, leading to deformed and bitter fruit. Eventually, citrus greening kills the tree. One of the few ways to fight citrus greening is by removing the tree.
Looking to offer Florida’s citrus industry relief in the wake of citrus greening, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., proposed a measure giving tax incentives to farmers who need to replace trees impacted by the disease.
Buchanan’s office explained the congressman’s “Emergency Citrus Disease Response Act” on Friday.
“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 office noted. “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.”
The bill was sent to the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, on which Buchanan sits.
“This commonsense legislation makes it less costly for citrus farmers to replant crops decimated by disease," said Buchanan on Friday. “I’m especially pleased that a dozen of my colleagues from Florida joined me to help protect the livelihoods of the 76,000 Floridians directly and indirectly employed by the citrus industry.”
The bill is being co-sponsored by Florida Republicans U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Ander Crenshaw, Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart, David Jolly, Tom Rooney, Dennis Ross and Ted Yoho and Florida Democrats U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, Alcee Hastings, Patrick Murphy and Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Murphy went to bat for the bill Tuesday. "With thousands of acres of groves on the Treasure Coast, Palm Beaches, and across Florida plagued by citrus greening, Congress must do more to address this crisis," said Murphy. "I have been a vocal advocate for research and treatment efforts to save Florida citrus, but we cannot forget that our local farmers are seeing their livelihoods devastated. I applaud Congressman Buchanan’s leadership on this bill to help growers replant and give Florida citrus a strong future."
In 2013, the Florida citrus industry -- which generates $9 billion and employs more than 75,000 Floridians -- saw its worst year in almost a quarter century. Earlier this year, the USDA awarded $30 million to fight citrus greening and, back in April, launched a project with an additional $23 million in grants to fight citrus greening.
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