For the second time, I was honored to be invited by the Sonoma County Wine Growers to attend the Congressional Wine Caucus in Washington, D.C. last month to help educate members of congress about the California wine industry and specifically to keep Sonoma County’s agricultural heritage at top of mind with our government leaders.
Congressmen and winegrape growers Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) and George Radanovich (R-Fresno) who created the Congressional Wine Caucus in 1999 to protect the interests of the vibrant wine industry from grape to glass. This gives us an opportunity to ensure that viticulture interests have a strong voice in the larger agricultural community nationally. The wine community contributes an estimated $162 billion to the U.S. economy annually and provides the equivalent of 1.1 million full-time jobs, including hundreds of thousands in California. The cultural and economic impact of our wine industry cannot be overstated.
The Caucus brings together more than 200 Senators and Representatives from all 50 states to educate and engage them in legislative and regulatory matters pertaining to the wine community. The caucus gives us an opportunity to directly educate congress about the wine industry. This year, myself along with Karissa Kruse, President of the Sonoma County Wine Growers (SCWG), Kate Piontek, Vice President SCWG; Amy Landolt, Marketing Coordinator SCWG; Alisha Basich, Business Development and Program Manager SCWG; and fellow vineyard owners Len and Charlotte Woolard, were able to spend a considerable amount of time talking with 25-30 members of congress, educating them about the issues that are critical to the continued success and protection of the Sonoma County wine industry.
Although it extends beyond the wine industry, one of the hottest topics this year was the proposed new Farm Bill legislation which expires in September. The Farm Bill is one of our Country’s most important pieces of farm and food legislation. It is designed to not only to support farmers and ranchers and our environment but also our consumers.
Most of us can probably agree that a bill that supports family farmers and ranchers, protects our land and waterways, and ensures that everyone in our country has enough to eat is essential. Although a majority of Farm Bill legislation supports SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, previously known as Food Stamps), it also provides essential farming support programs and funding streams including crop insurance, low-interest loans, grants for water conservation, programs to help our dairy farmers and dozens of other programs that support farmers and ranchers directly.
The hope is to have the 2018 Farm Bill ready for the President’s signature before the Sept. 30th expiration. Unfortunately, the Bill has stalled and failed to pass due to political disagreements on immigration policies and work requirements tied to SNAP.
In regards to the immigration issues, the California Farm Bureau (CFBF) supports reform that leads to a more stable flow of employees and offers a way for long-term agricultural workers to qualify for an adjustment to their legal status. We know first-hand the value of skilled labor both year-‘round and seasonal. CFBF seeks to improve labor policies affecting agriculture and to provide farmers and ranchers with information on existing laws and regulations. Consequently, CFBF has been going to Washington and supporting this cause.
Fortunately, with the support of CFBF and our Congressmen, Mike Thompson and Jared Huffman, we have strong support for our agricultural interests. Although there aren’t any actions that we can take at this time, it is important that we stay updated. I am proud to be part of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau and to be fostering relationships with key stakeholders and collaborating with the Sonoma County Winegrowers to ensure that all of our Sonoma County farming interests are represented and protected and that we are all kept informed and supported so that we can stay on top of what we do best…farm.