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Mike Thompson Formally Requests Disaster Aid Funding for Growers

Funding would cover growers who have suffered losses over smoke taint concerns
by Kerana Todorov
November 21, 2018

 U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson has requested disaster funding to help growers and other agricultural producers affected by wildfire smoke. The St. Helena Democrat on Monday requested supplemental funding for agricultural communities affected by this year’s fires in a letter co-signed by 21 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Oroville.

They seek the re-authorization of the 2017 Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program – or WHIP – which provides aid to agricultural producers affected by hurricanes and wildfires. Funding for the program expires in December unless Congress approves the reauthorization.

Thompson wants the program to cover producers and growers who sustained losses in the wildfires and hurricanes in 2018. “We also ask that any reauthorization of WHIP which include assistance for grapegrowers and other producers whose harvests are tainted by wildfire smoke,” Thompson said in his letter.

“As thousands of Americans begin the arduous process of rebuilding their lives, it is imperative that the federal government provide critical assistance to those affected, including the agricultural community,” Thompson wrote.

The letter was addressed to U.S. Reps. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., and Sanford Bishop, D-Ga. – respectively chairman and ranking member of the U.S. House of Representatives’ subcommittee on appropriations for agriculture, rural development, Food and Drug Administration, and related agencies.

Thompson wrote the letter about a week after The California Association of Winegrape Growers and other agricultural organizations in Lake and Mendocino counties requested disaster assistance funding for winegrape growers who lost revenues over concerns over smoke taint. The package should also promote federal crop insurance through education and establishing standards around smoke exposure claims; and $5.25 million for research on smoke taint exposure.

Lake County suffered losses of at least 37.1 million – or about half of its typical revenues, according to the letter CAWG sent to Thompson on Nov. 11. Growers reported in September companies such as Constellation Brands and Treasury Wine Estates had rejected fruit over smoke taint concerns.

Mendocino County’s losses are still being established, said Devon Jones, executive director of the Mendocino Farm Bureau, one of the organizations that signed the Nov. 11 letter. These losses are expected to be significant, said Jones, adding she appreciates Thompson’s letter moving forward. Mendocino’s annual winegrape crop typically produces about $120 million in revenues, according to the CAWG letter.

John Aguirre, CAWG president, is also grateful for Thompson’s efforts. “We are very appreciative of Rep. Thompson’s efforts to organize California support for disaster assistance aimed at helping winegrape growers affected by wildfires,” Aguirre said in an email Tuesday. “It’s very important for growers to know that assistance will be available to cover losses suffered in 2018. So passage of a supplemental funding bill that extends WHIP to cover 2018 losses is essential. Growers are planning for the year ahead and they need ahead and they need clarity around their financial situation.”

The Lake County Winegrape Commission also signed the Nov. 11 letter to Thompson, which included the request of the $5.25 million for research on smoke exposure. “We hope the topics of crop insurance and research also will be addressed in the coming months,” Debra Sommerfield, president of the Lake County Winegrape Commission, said Tuesday in a written statement. “Wildland fires are unpredictable and a recurring phenomenon in California and elsewhere on the West Coast. The assistance sought on behalf of grape growers will not only help those growers whose crops were affected by wildland fires this year but also in future years.”

Thompson’s letter cited a number of wildfires that scorched thousands of acres in the Golden State this year including the Mendocino Complex Fire which burned 460,000 acres in Lake Mendocino, Colusa and Glenn counties; the Carr Fire in Shasta and Trinity counties after scorching nearly 230,000 acres and destroying more than 1,000 houses; the Camp Fire that recently destroyed the town of Paradise in Butte County this month, costing the lives of more than 80 residents; and the Woolsey Fire west of Los Angeles that burned 425 structures. The burned structures included a number of wineries and vineyards in the Malibu Coast AVA, according to news reports.

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