By Craig W. Anderson
The original round of the federal Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) aid was good news for growers and ranchers whose crops had been adversely affected by the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in March. But there were concerns from some growers that their crops weren’t covered by the program and one of the major California and San Joaquin County crops that was left off the original CFAP was winegrapes. In fact, no grapes or raisins were included.
A Farm Bureau-driven campaign was launched that included letters to congressmen, advocating in person in favor of adding grapes to the new CFAP 2.0 with a phalanx of concerned farm organizations lobbying for winegrapes and grapes in general.
“We appreciated you reaching out on the importance of getting winegrapes included in the next USDA CFAP program and our boss happily joined Rep. Mike Thompson’s letter to USDA requesting their inclusion,” wrote Jessica Ilaria, legislative assistant to Congressman Josh Harder, D-Calif., in an email to Blodgett. “Grapes are now included as eligible specialty crops for direct payments [from] CFAP 2.0. USDA confirmed that includes all grapes – table, wine and raisins.”
“Farm Bureau’s leadership role was instrumental in having winegrapes added to CFAP 2.0,” Blodgett said. “Both of our Congressmen – Jerry McNerny and Josh Harder – supported our outreach and signed a letter from Farm Bureau explaining our position regarding winegrapes and the importance of this vital commodity as a crop of major value.”
He added, “A wide swath of growers, organizations, associations, politicians and concerned citizens helped our outreach to USDA about winegrapes.”
“From the inception of CFAP, we have advocated for aid for the full range of crops and commodities grown in California,” said CFBF President Jamie Johansson in a statement. “Finally, in this round, crops such as wine grapes, table grapes, raisins and pima cotton have been added to the list of those eligible for assistance.”
Applications for CFAP 2 began on Sept. 21 and will conclude Dec. 11.
“The wine industry greatly relies on tasting rooms and different contests and fairs, all of which helps set up marketing wine for a couple of years,” said SJFB President David Strecker.” COVID affected every aspect of agriculture for one reason or another and no commodities should have been left out of the initial program.”
Some aspects of winegrapes are unique and will likely need special consideration, such as grapes changing ownership when they reach a winery and that wine and winegrapes aren’t the same thing, an aspect which may require special consideration.
“Costs increased and we’ve seen significant economic impacts in the wine and grape industries due to COVID,” said Stuart Spencer, executive director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission. “I’m looking forward to seeing how Lodi’s grape industry will benefit from CFAP 2.” He said smoke and fires have to be considered now in addition to the pandemic; and CFAP 2 is “so new, we’re still reading it.”
One SJFB member’s experience has been more on the normal side of the pandemic issue resulting in a different outlook. Tom Hoffman, owner with his wife Carmela, of Heritage Oak Winery in the Acampo area, said, “Because we haven’t felt the COVID impact that much and haven’t suffered many losses because of it, we’ve continued with our business pretty much as usual. Our tasting facility’s been moved outside, so we’re not breathing the same air indoors. We observe all the mandates about social distancing and masking including when we wait on people outside. And everyone working here follows the rules on a daily basis.”
He said Heritage Oak has had no problems with workers from their labor contractor.
“We’ve had the usual pest issues, no smoke issues, and as long as the weather’s good and people keep coming, we should be fine,” Hoffman said. “The bird walks and other activities are still on.”
He said it was good that CFAP 2 has added winegrapes to the list of crops eligible for the program. “It’s good knowing it’s there helping growers and that applications can be made until Dec. 11.”
Full information about eligible commodities and the application process may be found on the USDA website at farmers.gov/cfap and from local USDA FSA offices.