Wine and Agriculture
As a life-long resident of California’s wine country and the representative of the world’s greatest wine region, it is a high honor to represent our district and its world-renowned wine community. Not only is our wine community important to thousands of families and businesses in our district, it is important to our national economy as well. The wine industry generates an estimated $162 billion to the U.S. economy every year and supports the equivalent of 1.1 million full-time jobs. I am working every day in Congress to strengthen our wine industry and the jobs it supports. The cultural and economic impact of our wine industry cannot be overstated.
That is why, upon arriving in Washington, I immediately set about creating a legislative organization to focus on the wine industry. I co-founded the bipartisan Congressional Wine Caucus in 1999. Today, this Caucus that I co-chair with Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr. (R-CA), brings together nearly 150 Senators and Representatives from across the country to educate and engage them in legislative and regulatory matters pertaining to the wine community.
Under my leadership, the Wine Caucus has held numerous policy briefings and receptions on Capitol Hill and has become involved in a wide variety of legislative issues – all with the goal of promoting our country’s incredibly vibrant wine industry from grape to glass. Some of the issues the Caucus has been working on in the 113th Congress include:
• Stopping increases to the excise tax on wine: I strongly oppose increasing the excise tax on wine because it would seriously undermine wineries’ efforts to grow and strengthen their businesses. In order to pay increased excise taxes, wineries would have to take funds directly out of their capital for expansion, severely limiting industry growth. Additionally, following an excise tax increase, wineries would be likely to absorb the additional excise tax payment for at least several years until a new price point is established – negatively affecting the industry’s bottom line.
• Conserving and protecting vineyards and open spaces: I reintroduced the bipartisan Conservation Easement Incentive Act of 2013 (H.R. 2807), which would help farmers, ranchers, and other landowners conserve and protect valuable agricultural lands, including vineyards. By providing tax incentives to landowners who choose conservation, the bill would help preserve our nation’s cherished farm lands and open spaces for future generations.
• Advocating for research and management funding: I have consistently advocated for important funding for innovative research on grape quality, pest and disease research and management, and solutions to production problems facing the U.S. viticulture industry. In particular, funding for Pierce’s Disease and the Glassy-winged Sharpshooter is paramount to our wine industry, and I have vigorously fought to secure federal dollars to help combat these, as well as other threats.
• Combating European Grapevine Moth: The invasive European Grapevine Moth (EGVM) poses a serious threat to the California wine grape industry, but through aggressive control efforts the eradication of this pest is possible. The USDA contributed nearly $17 million in 2011 and $8 million in 2012 to eradicate the EGVM. Due to these efforts, the number of EGVM trapped last year in Napa County, the epicenter of the infestation, fell sharply to 75 moths. In order to reach the goal of eradication, and not lose the substantial progress that has been made in recent years, funding must be continued.
• Continuing the Specialty Crop Block Grant: This program provides annual grants to assist State Departments of Agriculture in enhancing the competitiveness of specialty crops such as winegrapes.
• Continuing the Specialty Crop Research Initiative: This initiative provides competitive grant funding to research institutions so they can improve specialty crop production and health. It has been especially important in figuring out how to combat winegrape pests and diseases.
• The Horticulture and Organics Title: This program helps all specialty crop farmers by funding important pest and disease control provisions including the Clean Plant Network. It also provides funding for Value-Added Producer Grants, which help producers create market opportunities. This is particularly useful to small and medium sized producers. Many wineries and wine associations have taken advantage of this program.
• Market Access Program (MAP): MAP helps domestic producers expand their export market. In California alone, The Wine Institute manages an export promotional program in over 20 countries, causing export sales to rise to nearly $1 billion. MAP is the primary funding source for this effort.
Our district supports a varied and economically beneficial farming and ranching industry. The folks who grow our crops, produce, and livestock work hard to have productive businesses despite uncertain economic times. I support a full five-year reauthorization of the Farm Bill that will provide a safety net for farmers and ranchers when their products are impacted by forces beyond their control, and continues to provide assistance to families in need to put food on their tables. A long term reauthorization of the Farm Bill should also include an emphasis on research, pest management, and trade assistance programs that are vital to specialty crop producers; and highlight the economic, water and air quality, as well as healthy food programs that support productive California agriculture.
At the end of June 2013, the House of Representatives voted on the reauthorization of a Farm Bill which failed 195-234. I voted against this Farm Bill because it cut $20.5 billion dollars from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and hurt conservation. Now, the Congress must take action on another Farm Bill by September 30, 2013, or our farmers and ranchers will be faced with the uncertainty of expiring farm programs. Please know that I will work to ensure any future agreement contains principles that are important to our district, including:
• Strong conservation stewardship values – Our ranchers and farmers should be encouraged to continue to conduct their businesses in a manner that also benefits the surrounding communities and environment.
• Specialty crops provisions – I support the continuation of these provisions that recognize the unique needs of this industry.
• Local and organic farms – There is a nationwide need to improve and expand domestic farmers' markets, community-supported agriculture, and other direct producer-to-consumer market opportunities.
• Pest and disease prevention and control – Crops face threats from pests and diseases that can be reduced through vigilant research, monitoring, and treatment.
• Renewable energy and energy efficiency – As with all areas of our government, we should continue to reward farming practices that utilize alternative energy sources and reduce consumption of oil and gas.
• Adequate SNAP funding - Our economy is recovering but there are still millions of people who rely on SNAP assistance to help them get back on their feet and drastic cuts to this program are unacceptable.
I support strong conservation efforts in exchange for tax payer investments in crop insurance. It’s important that American farmers have a strong and reliable safety net, and that’s why American taxpayers invest heavily in crop insurance. But it’s also important that farmers take steps to protect and conserve our wetlands and highly erodible lands for the benefit of everyone.
The bipartisan Crop Insurance Accountability Act (H.R. 2260) that I coauthored would re-link crop insurance subsidy assistance to basic conservation compliance measures to ensure that long-standing safeguards for our lands remain in place. This would provide a return on American taxpayer’s investment in crop insurance by protecting some of our most sensitive areas.
I am working to make sure we have a fair and practical approach to immigration reform that ensures our agricultural industry has an adequate, legal, and stable workforce. I do not support an enforcement-only approach. I believe an enforcement-only is unworkable for our district’s grape growers and would only exacerbate current agricultural labor shortages.
Our agricultural workers and those who run our local farms deserve a workable solution to our broken immigration law. That’s why I recently joined several of my House colleagues in calling on President Obama to recognize that if enforcement-only approaches were solely implemented without regard to workers and employers, it would risk the economic vitality of the entire American agricultural industry. This isn’t right, and it isn’t something we can afford.
More on Wine and Agriculture
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A bipartisan coalition today introduced the Conservation Easement Incentive Act of 2015 in the House (H.R. 641) and Senate (S. 330). The legislation, authored by Representatives Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Mike Kelly (R-PA), and Senators Dean Heller (R-NV) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) provides a permanent enhanced tax incentive to family farmers, ranchers, and other landowners who choose not to develop their land and instead preserve their property for conservation.
Sonoma County’s congressional representatives are right. Six months of secrecy surrounding the federal raid of a Petaluma slaughterhouse and a nationwide recall of meat processed there in 2013 is more than enough. It’s time for federal investigators to come clean with their investigation into Rancho Feeding Corp. — if only to allow local ranchers who relied on Rancho for food processing to move on with a better understanding of what they can do, if anything, to address their losses.
Six months after federal regulators closed a Petaluma slaughterhouse and initiated a nationwide beef recall, two North Bay congressmen are calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture for answers about the still-ongoing investigations.
“Six months has been ample time,” Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, said Monday of the probes into Rancho Feeding Corp. “They should have been able to give us information, and they haven’t.”
WASHINGTON, D.C. (KCBS) — The Republican-controlled House of Representatives approved a water bill on Wednesday addressing California’s ongoing drought but the measure is likely to go no further because of a White House veto threat and opposition from the state’s Democratic Senators.
The federal water bill, passed mostly along party line 229-191, loosens environmental restrictions to pump more water from the Delta to the San Joaquin Valley.
U.S. Reps. Mike Thompson’s (D-CA-5) legislation, The Crop Insurance Accountability Act of 2013 (H.R. 2260), passed the Senate on Tuesday as part of the compromise long term reauthorization of the Farm Bill (H.R. 2642) and is expected to be signed into law.
The bipartisan Crop Insurance Accountability Act, co-authored by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE-1), enhances conservation by incentivizing responsible farming practices.
WASHINGTON — The Republican-controlled House passed legislation Wednesday billed as a response to the California drought, but the measure is unlikely to go further in the face of a White House veto threat and opposition from the state’s Democratic senators.
Still, the action highlights the growing interest on Capitol Hill in trying to do something about the water shortage, a potentially hot issue in this year’s elections. Democratic lawmakers are calling for hearings and hurriedly drafting legislation of their own.
Farm Bill legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, Benicia’s representative in the House, has passed the Senate and is expected to be signed into law, the Congressman said Tuesday.
His legislation, the bipartisan Crop Insurance Accountability Act of 2013, co-authored by U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., has become part of the compromise long-term reauthorization of the Farm Bill, Thompson said.
WASHINGTON - A Republican bill that would increase the amount of water available to farmers in California's fertile, but parched Central Valley, passed the GOP-majority House on a mostly party-line vote of 229-191 Wednesday.
Seven Democrats voted for it and two Republicans voted against. Californians were split along party lines, with Democratic Reps. Raul Ruiz of Palm Desert and Sam Farr of Carmel voting no and Republican Rep. Devin Nunes of Tulare voting yes.
The annual State of the Valley Breakfast Forum, sponsored by the Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce, united a triumvirate of federal, county and local officials Friday morning to reflect on how we’re doing, where we’re going and how we’re going to get there.
Speaking to a packed dining hall of business and government leaders were Fifth District Congressman, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin and Sonoma Mayor Tom Rouse.