By Mark Chander
Last week several of our wine industry peer organizations came to Washington, DC for a policy conference hosted by Winegrape Growers of America (WGA) and the National Wine and Grape Initiative (NGWI). Other industry partners such as Wine Institute, American Farm Bureau, and state and regional associations also participated (Atlantic Seaboard, California, Colorado, Maryland, Missouri, New York and Washington) - about 35 in the entire group. Most of the meetings and hill visits were coordinated by the very capable Cornerstone Government Affairs group, the new lobbying firm for the California Association of Winegrape Growers.
Coalition partners were able to meet with several key committees and agencies – House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations, House Horticulture Subcommittee, House Judiciary legal staff, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), USDA Risk Management Agency, TTB and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The primary policy matters addressed were funding for the Farm Bill, maintaining Specialty Crop Research and Block Grant initiatives, and immigration.
One entire day was set aside for a visit to the USDA Agricultural Research Service Center in Beltsville, MD, where the group was updated on cutting edge research in genotyping, agrosystems and environmental management, phenotyping, and crop protection.
Visits to Capitol Hill allowed us to meet with Rep. Kurt Schrader (OR), Rep. Sam Farr (CA), House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (VA), Rep. Jeff Denham (CA), Rep. Jim Costa (CA), Rep. David Valadeo (CA) and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (CA). Several attendees met with their representatives individually. With the budget votes hanging in the balance it was a critical time to have a presence on Capitol Hill.
A “Taste of the Grape” reception was held one evening, where wines from CA, VA, MO, NY, WA and CO were poured for the enthusiastic congressional staff and agency personnel.
Overall we found an unexpectedly aware group of people, who knew our issues, and listened to our stories. It is this type of contact that makes the difference between “being at the table, rather than on the menu” as expressed by one of our pundits. We are hopeful that funding for our priorities remains stable.
I strongly encourage as many WineAmerica members as possible to join us May 13-15 for our Annual Meeting, where similar opportunities will be offered. There is no substitute for one-on-one contacts with your legislators, who pay particular attention when you spend your time and energy to come visit them at their offices in Washington, DC.
Please join us!Register for the WineAmerica Policy Conference here: http://wamembers.grow-clients.com/