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Help for Florida Farmers Advancing in Senate

Daniel CooperCitrus, hurricane, Industry News Release

Farmers and other parts of Florida’s agriculture industry could receive about $75 million in post-Hurricane Irma assistance from the state next year under a measure moving forward in the Senate.

The Senate Finance and Tax Appropriations Subcommittee on Tuesday unanimously backed the proposal (SB 1608) by Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring. The proposal, in part, would reduce farmersproperty assessments on certain enclosed horticultural structures and offer tax refunds on materials used for construction of farm buildings and fences.

“We know from practice that ag typically needs a lot longer to recover from a disaster like Irma than most industries, especially when it comes to moving materials and products,” said Grimsley, who is running for state agriculture commissioner this year.

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has estimated that Irma inflicted $2.5 billion in losses on the state’s agriculture industry.

The bulk of relief for the industry is expected to come from a federal spending bill that Congress approved this month. The bill includes nearly $90 billion for disaster relief, with $2.36 billion aimed at assisting the agriculture industry for losses from Hurricane Irma in Florida, Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

Grimsley’s measure is moving as the Senate continues to put together a tax package that will have to be negotiated with the House over the next couple of weeks. The annual legislative session ends March 9.

The House has included several measures for the agricultural industry as part of an approximately $350 million tax package (HB 7087), which was approved by the House Ways & Means Committee last week.

The wide-ranging House package includes tax refunds on building materials, fencing and gas for farmers. Also, it includes a fuel tax refund on agricultural transportation and a tax break on citrus processing facilities that have been idled by Irma or by the industry’s fight against citrus greening disease.

The citrus industry is down 80 percent from its peak production years in the mid-1990s and faces a projected 33 percent reduction from last year’s harvest. It has been battling citrus greening for a decade and then was slammed by Irma, including in major citrus areas of Southwest Florida.

An amendment Grimsley made to her bill Tuesday would set aside $5 million for the Florida Agriculture Promotion Campaign within the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to expand initiatives promoting state agricultural products.

Before the promotional money was added, the state Revenue Estimating Conference estimated the package would cut state revenue by $59.5 million next fiscal year, with local governments facing a combined $15.4 million loss. The savings to taxpayers would fall to a combined $36.7 million a year thereafter.

by Jim Turner, News Service of Florida

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