Congressional letter urges pandemic aid for winegrapes

Issue Date: September 16, 2020
By Dave Kranz

With the U.S. Department of Agriculture expected soon to announce a new package of aid under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, more than three-dozen members of Congress have urged USDA to add winegrapes to the list of commodities eligible for the program.

Known as CFAP, the program provides direct financial assistance to farmers and ranchers who suffered price declines of 5% or greater for their crops or commodities in the first quarter, or who absorbed losses due to pandemic-related supply chain disruptions and faced significant new marketing costs as a result.

Although USDA has made dozens of crops eligible for the program, it has not included winegrapes. In a letter sent last week to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, 41 members of Congress—including 20 from California—urged USDA to change that.

The "unprecedented economic shutdown" from the pandemic has caused "widespread and substantial harm" to winegrape growers throughout the country, according to the letter, which was spearheaded by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and Dan Newhouse, R-Wash.

"The cessation of wine sales in multiple market channels has disrupted supply chains and forced winegrape growers to swim against a tide of deteriorating prices," the letter said.

The members of Congress cited "devastating" projections by wine business analyst Jon Moramarco that farmers' winegrape revenues nationwide could drop 25% this year, causing a $1.4 billion decline in grapes' farmgate value.

"These projected losses are being felt by growers right now," the letter said, "as harvest is underway in many areas of the country."

The "unique character of the winegrape crop cycle" made it difficult for farm and winery representatives to meet CFAP requirements regarding losses in the January-to-April quarter, the members of Congress wrote. They also criticized USDA for what they termed "disparate treatment" of winegrapes under the CFAP direct payment program, which made certain commodities eligible even when no specific price decrease could be identified.

"We urge you and your staff to reconsider what is clear and obvious: The COVID-19 pandemic has produced tremendously adverse economic consequences for growers of winegrapes," the congressional letter to Perdue concluded.

Applications for the original CFAP ended last week, but USDA has been expected to announce a new round of applications, according to Sara Neagu-Reed, associate director of federal policy for the California Farm Bureau Federation. Neagu-Reed said CFBF and the Wine Institute, which represents wineries, had been instrumental in urging the members of Congress to write Perdue.

"Winegrapes are among a number of crops we believe should have been eligible for CFAP all along," she said. "Many were added to the program last month but others—such as winegrapes, raisins, pima cotton and more—remain excluded. We will continue advocating with USDA to include the full array of crops that have lost markets due to COVID-19."

(Dave Kranz is editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at dkranz@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.




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