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Congress Approves Farm Bill

Funding increases 55% for specialty crop programs including wine grapes

by Andrew Adams
The National Clean Plant Network for Grapes eliminates viruses using microshoot tip culture. Source: NCPN
Washington, D.C.—Vital research into grapegrowing and other programs to support the wine industry should receive needed funding following the U.S. Senate’s approval of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (commonly known as the farm bill) today.

With a vote of 68-32, the Senate voted to approve the bill after the U.S. House of Representatives passed the same bill last week. The White House has said U.S. President Barack Obama will sign the legislation into law. The bill would disburse funding for the next five years.

The farm bill allocates nearly $100 billion in federal spending per year and had been held up by tussling between Republicans who wanted to cut funding and Democrats working to hold the line on public assistance programs. Lawmakers eventually agreed to an $800 million cut, or 1% of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (food stamps) Program, according to a report issued by the Associated Press.

Funding for specialty crops
Key programs of note to the wine industry that received funding include the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, which will get $80 million per year through fiscal year 2018. This represents an increase in investment of 55% over the 2008 Farm Bill in critical specialty crop initiatives and programs, including those for wine grapes, according to WineAmerica.

The specialty crop grant program will receive $72.5 million per year through 2017 and then reach $85 million in 2018.

Pest and disease funding will receive $62.5 million per year and $75 million in 2018, with a minimum of $5 million dedicated to the National Clean Plant Network.

$200 million per year will go toward the Market Access Program, which supports a variety of crops including grapes and wine. The Wine Institute receives funding through this program as administrator of California’s wine-export program. More than 170 wineries participate in the program and accounted for $1.4 billion in exports in 2012.

Mark Chandler, executive director of WineAmerica, said the group was “extremely pleased” with the bill’s legislative approval. He said WineAmerica worked with 120 other specialty crop lobbying groups to ensure funding levels stayed the same or increased. “The funding levels were all at what we recommended to the legislators, and that’s going to give us five years of the research we need,” he said.

While the political wrangling may have focused on food stamps and other issues aside from farming, Chandler said funding could always be at risk. “The concern is when they’re in a budget-cutting mode, just about anything can be cut and dropped off the table,” he said.

But by early January, Chandler said the tone—on the farm bill at least—changed to one of compromise, probably because of the 2014 elections.

Karen Ross, the Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture released a statement praising the Senate for passing the bill. “The Farm Bill contains crucial support for our farmers, ranchers and rural communities, by providing important drought disaster aid—including livestock feed assistance—and funds for conservation and specialty crop and invasive species-management programs. However, this bill is not perfect, as significant cuts to nutrition assistance programs remain.”

California’s two democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, both supported the bill but also criticized the funding cuts. “This bill is a win for farmers and consumers,” Boxer said in a statement. “It invests in rural communities and agricultural research, takes key steps to reform wasteful spending and helps put food on the table for millions of Californians.”

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