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Industry Petitions New York Ag & Markets for Grape Research and Development Order

Industry Focus

By Tim Martinson and Jim Bedient

Jim Bedient

Starting in 2011, the New York State Wine Grape Growers, the New York Wine and Grape Foundation and the Lake Erie Regional Grape Program, Inc. initiated a process with New York's Department of Agriculture and Markets to establish a statewide 'Research and Development Order' that would provide a continuing funding source for viticulture research in New York. I spoke with Jim Bedient, who farms 100 acres of grapes near Branchport and is the chairman of the board of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation about the proposed order in early July. Here is a copy of the draft Research and Development Order.

What is a Research and Development Order and how will it work?

A Research and Development Order, commonly known as a market order, is an assessment administered by the NY Department of Agriculture and Markets that will provide a private funding stream for research that benefits New York grape growers. Every grower will pay an assessment based on tonnage and value which will go into a fund administered by Ag and Markets, and 100% of the money will fund research and extension projects that will assist the industry. Although these are called 'market' orders, our petition specifies research, and none of the funds will go toward marketing.

Who asked for it and why?

The original petition was submitted by the New York Wine and Grape Foundation, the New York State Wine Grape Growers, and the Lake Erie Regional Grape Program, Inc., a juice grape processor group in western New York that has had a voluntary assessment of $0.75 per ton to support research and extension for ten years. We did so, in part, because when we went to the legislature in 2010 to ask for restoration of funding for the NY Wine and Grape Foundation--which had been 'zeroed out' in the governor's budget--they asked what the industry would do in the future to support research. This is our answer.

What specific assessment are you asking for?

We are asking for a maximum of one half of 1% of the farm gate value of all juice and wine grapes grown in New York. This assessment would apply to growers who have at least two acres of grapes.

How will funds be collected?

The funds will be collected by processors, who will withhold the funds from payments to growers. Growers who sell fruit out of state will be responsible for sending payment to Ag & Markets. Wineries that process their own fruit will be responsible for sending the assessment based on the value of their fruit to Ag & Markets.

When does the process begin and how will the voting work?

We started the process by submitting the draft petition asking for the Research and Development Order in 2011. The next step is for Ag & Markets to hold hearings to receive grower feedback. They may then call for a vote, or ask for changes, or make the decision as to whether the process continues. If they decide to put it to a vote, everyone with more than two acres will receive a ballot in the mail  to vote for or against establishing the marketing order. This process will start in the near future, but at this point no specific timetable has been established.

How will the votes be counted?

To pass the Research and Development Order, the 'yes' votes must represent over 50% of the ballots returned and 60% of the acreage represented.

If the research order is passed, who will decide how funds are allocated?

Industry members that pay into the fund will decide. Decisions will be made by a nine member board appointed by the Commissioner of Ag & Markets, including one juice processor, one winery, and a mandatory two members from Lake Erie, one from the Finger Lakes, one from Long Island, and two additional 'at large' members. Any grower will be able to submit nominations for the board, and the commissioner will select the members from the pool of nominees.

How much money will this raise?

We estimate this will raise $300,000 to $400,000 annually, based on historical tonnage. The rough breakdown by region is expected to be 50% from Lake Erie, 30% from the Finger Lakes and 20% from Long Island.

Why are assessments based on 'farm gate' value rather than tonnage?

Because the value of different grapes can range from $230 to over $2000 per ton, we felt that using gross receipts was the only way to make the assessment fair and equitable. Other ways of splitting up grape assessments into juice versus wine grapes, or concord/hybrid/vinifera categories just didn't work.

Do other groups have Research and Development Orders?

Yes. Apple growers voted to establish the New York Apple Research and Development Program in 1990, which has generated about $200,000 annually for industry-funded research over the past 20 years. Just last year they voted to double their assessment, to raise $350,000- to $400,000 per year. We used their successful program as a model for our petition.

How has grape research been funded in the past, and why is change important now?

For the past ten years, Lake Erie grape processors have contributed $0.75 per ton for Concords and Niagaras, generating around $100,000 a year. In recent years, Long Island has contributed $10,000 to $15,000 , and the New York State Wine Grape Growers have contributed $2000 annually to support research. These industry funds were matched by 30-50% by funds appropriated to the NY Wine and Grape Foundation. Until 2011, the Eastern Viticulture Consortium, funded by the USDA, provided roughly $500,000 to support grape research in states east of the Rocky Mountains. A lot of those funds went to grape research in New York. That funding was eliminated in 2011.

Dwindling federal and state funding for research means that if we want research benefiting the industry to continue, we'll have to contribute more.

Why do you feel it's important to support research?

I saw a talk from an Iowa State University economist that every $1 spent on research returns $32 dollars to growers. That's a good return on investment. It's an investment we need to make, just like equipment and supplies.

How has research benefited you and your farm?

I can cite several examples:

  • New varieties coming out of the program. I planted Traminette and Noiret to replace Delaware. These new varieties helped me make more money.
  • Nutrition. I used to put 100 lb of nitrogen on per acre and now I'm averaging 25 lb. That came directly out of the sustainable practices workbook and the article Jamie Hawk wrote called Optimizing Nitrogen Use in Vineyards.
  • Disease Management. My spray program has changed so much over the years. When new materials come out, Wayne Wilcox's program is the one that tests them and helps us put together an efficient and cost effective program.
  • Spray technology. Andrew Landers' spray technology research has saved growers thousands of dollars in fungicide use by adjusting fan speed, air volume, and nozzle orientation on their sprayers to reduce drift and apply less fungicide early in the season when the canopy is small.
  • Phylloxera on Concords. Greg Loeb has had a Movento trial in a Concord block in western New York where over three years they came up with 16% yield advantage. This started out as a 'wine grape' project, but it may end up benefiting Concord juice grape growers even more.
  • Crop forecasting and mechanical thinning with harvesters has allowed juice grape growers to crop more heavily and adjust their crop later if needed. I do mechanical crop estimation when I'm worried about being able to ripen my Concords and Niagaras.

Why should growers support this?

Because government funding is dwindling. We're a pretty small industry, and to thrive in future we'll need to do things differently. This way the industry continues to have a stake in what research is done. We need research to maintain our position as leaders of the Eastern wine and grape industry.

For More Information:

Tim Martinson is senior extension associate in the Department of Horticulture at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva. Jim Bedient farms 100 acres of grapes near Branchport, and is on the board of directors of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation.