USDA?to buy $11.5M in surplus Concord grapes

On Monday, U.S. Sena-tors Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand announced that they have successfully petitioned the U.S. Department of Agricul-ture to use $11.5 million in Section 32 funds to purchase Concord grape juice for use in domestic nutrition programs.

The grape industry currently has a surplus of Concord grapes used to make Concord juice, as a carryover from a large 2013 crop of grapes. This surplus in grapes can create instability in the market which can put local farmers into financial difficulty.

The Senators had written the USDA to help purchase some of this surplus product to ensure that prices remain stable for the industry ahead of the 2014 harvest. New York has 281 growers and over 9,700 acres of Concord vineyards, many concentrated in Chautauqua County, which is part of the greater Lake Erie Grape Region – the world’s largest and oldest Concord-grape producing region.

On Monday, Schumer and Gillibrand announced an $11.5 million nationwide purchase of Concord grape juice, which will be great news for growers in Western New York and will be used to supplement the USDA’s supply for nutrition programs, such as the school lunch program.

“The USDA’s decision to heed our call and purchase more grapes ahead of this year’s harvest is a win-win for growers in Chautauqua County and individuals receiving nutrition assistance,” said Schumer. “More juice sales mean more profit for our growers, and more profit for those tourist destinations and farmers markets that sell to wine and grape lovers, like the Downtown Jamestown Farmers Market. On top of that, it means the market for their product will be stable ahead of this year’s harvest, so they will now have the certainty they need to make the decision to expand or grow jobs this year. New York is replete with vineyards from Long Island to Western New York, and today’s announcement is good news for every grape-grower in New York, but especially those Concord grape growers in Chautauqua County.”

“New York’s world-class vineyards produce some of the finest grapes, grown by hard-working farm families,” added Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “When we connect our grape growers in Jamestown and throughout Western New York, we can help strengthen our agriculture economy, while bringing healthy, nutritious grape juice to school children across the country.”

“This USDA action will be a tremendous boost to our farm and to all the Concord grape growers in our region,” said Dennis Rak, of AA Vineyards in Fredonia. “Instability in the grape market hurts our industry and so we are very thankful to the USDA and Senators Schumer and Gillibrand for their support on this issue.”

Chautauqua County and its Concord grape growers are part of the Lake Erie Grape Region, the world’s largest and oldest Concord grape-producing region, and the largest grape-producing region in the United States outside of California. Concord grapes are one of only a few fruits native to North America; and Westfield in particular is known for its founding role in the Concord grape industry. Twenty-three wineries comprise the Chautauqua-Lake Erie Wine Country, which spans a 50-mile journey from Silver Creek into Erie County, Pa., and includes over 30,000 vineyard acres between the two states.

Section 32 funds are used by USDA to purchase agriculture products which are in turn used for nutrition programs such as the school lunch program. These bonus buys by USDA have been effective in the past to stabilize agriculture markets while increasing the supply of nutritious foods available for domestic food assistance programs. Purchases of Concord grapes have helped stabilize their market in the past and this new bonus buy will benefit grape producers in New York, Washington, Michigan, Pennsylvania Ohio, Arkansas, Missouri, and Indiana.