December 07, 2009

Schumer, Gillibrand Urge USDA To Buy Concord Grapes Juice For Distribution To Needy Americans

Would Stabilize Prices Farmers Receive for their Grapes, Bolster Rural Economies Across New York

Washington, DC - U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand today called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to use 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. Grape growers in New York are especially concerned because sales of this year's crop are well below expectations, contributing to this surplus and further depressing the price they receive for their products. The economic down turn has hit rural communities especially hard and grape growers face additional hardship due to low sales.

"Grape growing is an important industry in western New York, providing jobs, revenue and, of course, delicious grape juice and wine," said Schumer.  "The USDA could lend an important helping hand through this difficult season by purchasing excess Concord grape juice, and I urge them to do just that.  It's a win, win, win - for farmers, for individuals receiving nutrition assistance, and for the business across New York State that benefit from a thriving grape industry."

"New York is known for its world-class vineyards - from Long Island and the Hudson Valley to the Finger Lakes and Western New York, and even the North Country," said Senator Gillibrand, the first New York Senator in 40 years to serve on Senate Agriculture Committee. "During these tough economic times, New York's agriculture sector has been hit hard. It is critical that the USDA step in and help our grape growers. New York's farmers are a critical part of our economy and we must ensure their success."

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 another bonus buy would benefit grape producers in New York, Washington, Michigan, Pennsylvania Ohio, Arkansas, Missouri, and Indiana.

The grape industry is crucial to New York State. According to New York Department of Agriculture and Market, New York ranks third in the country for wine and grape juice production. Cornell cites that grape industry tourism and associated industries have a statewide economic impact of $6 billion - primarily produced around Lake Erie, the Finger Lakes, Hudson Valley and the eastern end of Long Island.

In their letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Senators Gillibrand and Schumer wrote, "We respectfully request that USDA work with the grape industry to reduce the concord juice carryover through a bonus purchase of juice... Time is of the essence, since the carryover of juice needs to be reduced as quickly as possible to minimize its effect on the industry."