Show up, Stand up, Speak up

Earlier this month, May 9-10, 2023, I attended the WineAmerica National Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. The event was packed with more than 70 “Hill visits” with Congressional leaders, including for the Agriculture and Appropriations Committees of the House and Senate, skillfully arranged for conference attendees by WineAmerica Vice President Michael Kaiser. It was an invaluable opportunity, especially as the Farm Bill comes up for reauthorization this Fall, to “show up, stand up and speak up” as founding NGRA member and fellow attendee John Martini (Anthony Road Wine Company) likes to say. And it was a wonderful chance to meet and/or reconnect with grape growers, winemakers and association executives from across the country.

While I was in D.C., I also met with key federal agencies that fund grape research. Here’s which ones and why they matter:

  • USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) – In USDA parlance, ARS is the intramural research funding agency. That means that it hires—and funds the research programs of—staff scientists to serve stakeholder needs. ARS conducts nearly $25 million each year in research coded to grape.
  • USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) – NIFA is USDA’s extramural research arm. It offers hundreds of competitive grant programs, including its flagship Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) and the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) that’s most critical to grape. (Note: SCRI is an $80 million grant program mandated by the Farm Bill, so its reauthorization this year is really important!)
  • USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) – NASS deploys enumerators and analysts across the country to compile the statistics needed to understand and advance agriculture, including the U.S. Census of Agriculture. Their work once included a Vineyard and Orchard Acreage Study, conducted every five years, spanning table grape, wine, raisin and juice production nationwide, but it was discontinued due to funding cuts. There is a push for its reinstatement, including by NGRA member-organizations WineAmerica, the New York Wine & Grape Foundation and Washington Winegrowers.
  • Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) – FFAR was established in the 2014 Farm Bill to increase public agriculture research investments, fill knowledge gaps and complement USDA’s research agenda. The Foundation matches Congressional funding with private funding in a consortium model focusing on water, soil health and rapidly emerging critical ag issues.
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) – Yes, the space agency. Its Earth Science Division is invested in using its earth-observation capabilities (like satellites and the data they produce) to aid agriculture in addressing issues like water management, crop development and threats, drought preparedness and more. (See the related Research Focus article below.)

Together, these agencies provide hundreds of millions of dollars each year in grape research funding. NGRA cultivates a relationship with each of them, and they rely on NGRA to serve as the unified industry voice to advise on our scientific needs. I found a receptive audience at each meeting, eager to understand the grape and wine industry’s research priorities and see how they can help.

All in all, my week in Washington, D.C., was exhausting and energizing all at the same time. As my colleague and WineAmerica Board member Chris Brundrett (William Chris Vineyards) said of the experience, “Sharing the great things our amazing folks are working on and advocating for (the industry) is very worthwhile!”

Donnell Brown