Sometimes the price of doing nothing is that nothing gets done. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio made that painfully clear on Thursday when he and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam toured an Auburndale citrus grove to get an up-close look at the effects of the dreaded citrus greening disease.
The disease afflicts 9 of every 10 acres of commercial groves across Florida, which boasts roughly a half-million acres of citrus trees. Production has fallen to about one-fourth of what it was in the pre-greening era. The Citrus Department recently slashed its budget by a third and its workforce by 15 jobs to try to help growers, who fund the agency through a self-imposed tax.
While in Auburndale, Rubio, a Republican, noted that he and Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, had fired off a letter to Senate leaders urging urgent action on the Emergency Citrus Disease Response Act. The bill, sponsored in the Senate by Nelson, would allow farmers to claim an immediate tax break for new trees planted to replace diseased ones, instead spreading the depreciation cost over 14 years, as the IRS now mandates.
The bill has been languishing in Congress since November. “Florida citrus is the gold standard for the world,” Rubio told The Ledger Thursday. “We want to make sure that continues to be the case.”
“If we don’t have re-planting, we’re going to lose the industry,” he added.
We’ve noted repeatedly in this space the dire situation facing Polk growers, and those throughout the state. And while Congress has been good about providing millions of dollars to research the greening menace, the other side of helping the citrus industry to recover is eradicating sick trees and replanting healthy ones.
This bill would help with that. The problem, however, is that this Congress is notorious for doing nothing — on any issue.
We’re not hopeful Congress will take action now. Practically all 12 of the government’s budget bills are in limbo while lawmakers are on hiatus for the summer. Still, we appreciate the work of Nelson and Rubio and their House counterparts — Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, has filed an identical bill that is backed by the Florida delegation — in trying to save the citrus industry.