Several agricultural groups are seeking additional disaster relief in light of the damage caused to the wine industry from various wildfires burning throughout the West. Wine groups from California, Washington, and Oregon are asking lawmakers for an extension of the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus (WHIP+). Organizations including the California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG), California Farm Bureau Federation, and Winegrape Growers of America sent a letter to congressional leaders asking for wildfire assistance.
“We fear these wildfires, and potentially more to come, will result in the greatest economic loss, due to a natural disaster, ever suffered by the industry in our states,” the letter states. “As wildfires continue, increasing numbers of buyers are rejecting grapes due to concerns about smoke exposure. Without a market, these grape growers are forced to abandon their fruit in the vineyard.”
The letter was addressed to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. The organizations point out that the dire conditions created by the wildfire smoke warrants disaster relief through WHIP+. The program, administered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, helped industry members with payments last year due to 2018 losses related to wildfires and the effect of smoke exposure.
“Farmers are resilient and they accept the many risks inherent to agriculture, but 2020 has produced more challenges than any could have ever anticipated,” CAWG President John Aguirre said in a press release. “It’s absolutely essential that Congress extends disaster assistance to California winegrape growers.”
The industry groups point out that the damage from the 2020 wildfires is creating a significant level of uncertainty. Approximately 7,300 producers grow winegrapes in California, Washington, and Oregon, resulting in a crop valued at $4.5 billion annually. Collective economic activity stemming from the wine industry in the three states is $71.61 billion. Industry members are concerned about what kind of impact the wildfires are going to have without some kind of disaster relief.