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House Eyes Tax Help For Agriculture Industry

Florida’s Hurricane Irma-battered agriculture industry, growing anxious as it awaits federal disaster relief, could land some help from the state House as part of a tax-cut package.

The House Ways & Means Committee, which is putting together a package, reviewed three measures Wednesday intended to help the industry, which sustained an estimated $2.5 billion in damages from the deadly September hurricane.

Rep. Ben Albritton, a Wauchula Republican who owns a citrus grove, outlined a proposal that could offer one-time tax refunds on fencing and building materials for non-residential farm buildings. Also, a proposal would offer refunds on state and local taxes applied to fuel used to transport agriculture products from farms to processing and packaging facilities.

Another idea under consideration would value at salvage level machinery that has gone idle at citrus packing and processing facilities because of Hurricane Irma or because of citrus greening disease, which has ravaged the industry the past decade.

“If you have a packing house that is shut down, some of these packing houses would have employed 100 people, maybe more,” Albritton says. “If you hope and pray like I do that we’ll somehow, some way soon we’re going to find the bottom of citrus production in the state and we’ll turn it around and start growing again, those packing houses would have the opportunity be operational again. If they go in foreclosure and the bank owns them, what’s the good for the property owner.”

While price tags have not been affixed to the proposals and growers maintain that a stalled federal disaster-aid package will provide more relief, Albritton says after the committee meeting that the damage has affected farmers and others in the supply chain.

“In the shape that we’re in right now, every penny matters,” Albritton says.

The agriculture-relief proposals were among 78 recommendations rolled out of the House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness. The committee was created in the wake of Irma, a Category 4 storm that pounded the state Sept. 10 and 11 and left 84 people dead.

Adam Basford, director of state affairs for the Florida Farm Bureau, hopes the proposals will get further consideration.

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