Maybe It’s You…

As it does every December 21, this month brought the shortest, darkest day of the year. With the Omicron variant circulating, there’s a lot of uncertainty and anxiety out there. Around this Winter Solstice, it’s been easy to focus on the darkness.

At NGRA’s End-of-Year Board Meeting, held via Zoom on November 18, 2021, we looked back at the year, to consider what goals we achieved and regroup on those we didn’t, to review our financial performance (and my job performance) for the year concluding, and to set a budget and plan for our future. Yes, there were some “low lights,” as Board Chair Russ Smithyman said, namely around growth of the organization.

We had hoped to grow our ranks by one new industry member and our first affiliate member. But the challenges that have buffeted the grape and wine industry—the pandemic, wildfires, low yields—have made philanthropic giving tough. Add to that the fact that research (the focus of our nonprofit) is a long game whose returns can be years away, maybe even beyond the scope of our lifetime. In these dark days, it can be difficult to see beyond the now. But if you’re passionate about advancing our industry, consider joining NGRA. Our research mission is all about translating our common challenges into issues science can solve. In this way, as our November Board meeting proceedings show, there is a lot of “light” to focus on! Read on for the highlights.

In October, the USDA announced my appointment (and 14 other ag industry representatives) to the National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education and Economics (NAREEE) Advisory Board. There, I’ll provide a voice for the research needs of the grape and wine industry as it relates to federal research priorities. A big win in 2021!

Our goal to get at least two NGRA-initiated research projects funded was met via these vital projects:

  • The Online Guide to Varieties of the U.S., a project initiated by our Extension and Outreach Research Theme Committee, led by co-PIs Matthew Fidelibus and Glenn McGourty (UCCE) – Received first-year funding from the American Vineyard Foundation
  • HiRes Vineyard Nutrition, which emerged from our Integrated Production Systems Theme Committee and is led by Markus Keller (WSU) – Received second-year funding from the USDA-NIFA Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI)

And with planning meetings, proof of concept work and/or grant applications throughout the second half of 2021, our Research Theme Committees continued to work toward launching the projects that emerged from their most recent brainstorming and prioritization process, spanning soil health, fruit-quality sensing, broad-spectrum disease resistance and the state of viticulture and enology extension in America (a directory, survey and white paper).

We successfully met our goal to produce the ASEV-NGRA Precision Viticulture Symposium with our colleagues at the American Society of Enology and Viticulture—and there’s more to come. The conference proceedings—a day of presentations by 22 leading lights in precision viticulture theory and practice—were delivered virtually on June 21, 2021. An in-person, on-the-ground demo day is planned for Spring 2022, where innovations in precision viticulture will come to life. A conference grant from USDA-NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative helped to make this event possible.

We ended the year with solid financial performance and approved an investment strategy to grow our Research Fund. Plus, we’re on track to conduct our first strategic planning in a decade—a critical 2021 goal, set to ensure NGRA remains a strong, vibrant organization for years to come. We issued a request for proposals for strategic planning services in Fall 2021 and will soon select a service provider to support this activity, culminating in an in-person, all-Board-member strategic meeting in July 2022.

As the NGRA Board closed out the year, reviewing our past 12 months and planning the next, we recognize that our work, like science, is often slow. There is much we want to achieve, and we’re grateful for the wisdom, patience and steady engagement of our members in continuing to pursue our goals. Thank you to all who volunteer with and contribute to NGRA and our research mission. Truly, none of the light we bring to the industry is possible without you.

And as for that new member: maybe it’s you?

Donnell Brown