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"Farm Bill" Passed: Good News for Grape Growers and Winemakers

by Linda Jones McKee
December 14, 2018

On Dec.11 the Senate passed H.R. 2, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, a.k.a. the Farm Bill, with an 87-13 vote, and the following day the House of Representatives approved the legislation with an equally bi-partisan vote of 369-47. The bill now goes to President Trump for his signature; it is anticipated that that event will take place next week.

The 2018 Farm Bill includes three provisions that are important to specialty crops such as vineyards and wineries and that had been part of the previous bill passed in 2014: the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI), the Market Access Program (MAP) for export trade promotion, and Specialty Crop Block Grants (SCBG).

A total of $80 million per year is included for specialty crop research in the current bill. An additional $25 million per year will be put into a citrus trust fund for research on citrus greening. These funds represent an increase in SCRI funding by $125 million over the 2014 Farm Bill. In the previous legislation, the citrus research funding came out of the annual $80 million designated for specialty crop research.

The Market Access Program will continue to provide funding for export programs in five states: California, Idaho, New York, Oregon, and Washington. Under the 2018 legislation, the MAP will be part of a new International Market Development Program that will also include the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops (TASC), the Foreign Market Development program (FMD) and the Emerging Markets Program (EMP). Under the new structure, for each of the next five years MAP will continue to be funded at no less than $200 million, FMD at no less than $34.5 million, TASC at $9 million, and EMP at no more than $8 million.

MAP funding is allocated to different commodity groups, including the wine industry, where the majority of the funds go to the Wine Institute in California. The program is important in other states where the wine industry is expanding, such as New York. According to Sam Filler, executive director of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, the Foundation has received funding for 22 years that has helped to support their NY exports program. “That funding has played a big part in building the image of quality wines for NY state,” Filler said.

The Specialty Crop Block Grants will continue to be funded at $85 million per year, the funding level for 2018. The total funding for the five years of the Farm Bill for SCBG will be $425 million, which is a significant increase over the 2014 funding of the program at $375 million.

Other funding programs impacting grapes and wine

Since the passage of the previous Farm Bill in 2014, grape growers and winemakers across the country have faced new problems caused by pests and diseases. The spotted lanternfly was first discovered in Pennsylvania in 2014; now it has been found in five other contiguous states. The brown marmorated stink bug population has spread from the East coast to 44 states, including Washington, Oregon and California. Spotted wing drosophila are an increasing problem in the upper Midwest. Grapevine trunk diseases are a concern for vineyards in every growing region.

This year’s Farm Bill will maintain the funding for pest and disease research at the 2018 fiscal year level of $75 million per year and includes provisions to coordinate research projects to better utilize resources. In addition, the bill reauthorizes the National Clean Plant Network.

According to Michael Kaiser, vice president of WineAmerica, the section of the Farm Bill that deals with the promotion of local products includes $500 million in total funding for the Local Agriculture Market Program, Value Added Producer Grants (which have aided many wineries, large and small, across the country), Farmer's Market Promotion Program and the Local Food Promotion Program.

Several sections of the bill include wording that prioritizes research and development of mechanization for labor-intensive specialty crops such as grapes.

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