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HomeViticultureThe Increasing Importance of CAWG in an Ever-Changing Industry and Political Landscape

The Increasing Importance of CAWG in an Ever-Changing Industry and Political Landscape

California is home to some of the most sought-after vineyards in the world, and for good reason. The combination of our unique climate, diverse geography and experienced growers makes it possible to produce world-class grapes that go into exceptional wines.
While the fickle whims of the weather continue to cause challenges, grape growers must also navigate the equally unpredictable terrain of the political climate, where policies and regulations can make or break their livelihoods.

Natural phenomena such as weather events are beyond our control, but the political climate can certainly be influenced through actions and advocacy. With this in mind, the California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG) was established in 1974 with the mission to promote the interests of California winegrape growers, giving them a unified voice in the policy-making process. Almost 50 years later, CAWG continues to represent the collective voice of growers at the state, federal and regulatory levels to advocate for policies and practices that support the sustainability and growth of the winegrape industry.

From Passion to Presidency
Growing up surrounded by the vibrant agricultural landscape of the San Joaquin Valley sparked my passion for the industry. Active involvement in organizations like 4-H and FFA further fueled my enthusiasm, leading me to pursue a degree in agricultural business from California State University, Chico and launch a career in agriculture.

In 2015, I joined CAWG as the director of member relations, leading our grower outreach, education and membership efforts. Following a brief period as interim president, I was officially appointed as president of the association in late 2022. I am thrilled to carry on the legacy of robust leadership, working collaboratively with our 27 elected grower board members and exceptional staff. With this shared dedication, CAWG will continue to serve as a powerful advocate for California winegrape growers.

State Sponsored Legislation
The year has kicked off with a flurry of activity as we delve into both state and federal matters. Lawmakers have introduced more than 2,600 bills this year, the highest number in over a decade. While we will take a stance on several bills that affect growers, we are also sponsoring and co-sponsoring the following legislation.

SB 659 – Groundwater Recharge
CAWG is sponsoring SB 659 (Ashby, D-Sacramento). The intent of this bill is to create the statutory framework and a statewide focus on the most impactful solution to address the water management challenges presented by climate change in California.

Unless there is a substantial shift in the approach to water supply, California’s water resources will eventually be depleted. This is an undeniable fact. According to Governor Newsom’s Water Supply Strategy released in August 2022, California is projected to lose around 7.5 million acre-feet annually by 2040. However, it is worth clarifying that California is not running out of water. Recent storms have demonstrated the immense potential of collecting stormwater for groundwater replenishment. This indicates that we must adopt a new paradigm for water management. This is a critical juncture that necessitates prompt action.

Following a brief period as interim president, Natalie Collins was officially appointed as president of the California Association of Winegrape Growers in late 2022 (all photos courtesy N. Collins.)

By creating a goal of 10 million acre-feet of new groundwater annually by 2035, SB 659 moves past the promise of a strategy, and we can begin the real work on groundwater recharge projects that are shovel-ready. By placing this requirement in law, that statutory goal would need to be a consideration in rulemaking and funding decisions by all state agencies having authority over water.

AB 54 – Research Funding: Winegrape and Smoke Exposure
With the unprecedented losses growers and wineries suffered in 2020 due to wildfire smoke, CAWG and Wine Institute are co-sponsoring AB 54 (Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters). Under this bill, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) would allocate funds toward smoke research. These research dollars would facilitate efforts to explore precise way of measuring smoke compounds, methods to mitigate the damage that can occur from exposure to smoke, and methods to prevent smoke damage to winegrapes and wine.

AB 54 would also require CDFA to establish an advisory committee of specified members to provide recommendations for funding research proposals submitted to the department under these provisions. The bill asks the legislature to set aside $5 million in the state budget for this research.

SB 375 – COVID-19 Tax Credit
CAWG is sponsoring SB 375 (Alvarado-Gil, D-Jackson) to provide employers with financial relief from the cost of compliance with the new COVID-19 workplace safety standards that took effect on February 4.

SB 375 would provide an annual credit against state payroll taxes to reimburse employers for costs such as testing, masking, ventilation systems, exclusion from work and other pandemic-based regulatory compliance costs.

CAWG and our members appreciate the commonsense leadership displayed by Senator Alvarado-Gil in authoring this much-needed legislation. SB 375 will support California employers and growers throughout the state who are still recovering from the pandemic and alleviate the burden put onto employers for a community-spread virus.

Autonomous Agricultural Equipment
CAWG is leading the push toward amending California regulations to allow for the full utilization of self-driving tractors, robotics and other autonomous farm equipment. This involves industry partners from all aspects of agriculture, academia and manufacturers. Our goal is to increase awareness of the advantages of precision viticulture for the environment, workforce and growers, and to apply that information and science to cleaning up California law which is based on technology developed 80 years go. That law severely restricts the full utilization of that equipment.

2023 Farm Bill Priorities
The Farm Bill is a comprehensive piece of federal legislation passed every five years by Congress. It covers a wide range of agricultural and rural development policies, including crop insurance, commodity programs, conservation, nutrition assistance, research and development, and rural development programs.

CAWG’s priorities in the 2023 Farm Bill include:
Mechanization and Automation Research: CAWG is advocating for the strengthening of research provisions geared towards new technologies, equipment and systems that alleviate concerns with labor availability and vineyard access.

Crop Insurance and Disaster Assistance: The 2020 wildfires dealt a severe blow to growers, underscoring the crucial role of crop insurance. Although there is room for improvement in the program, it remains an essential safeguard against devastating financial losses. CAWG is committed to advocating for ongoing enhancements to the Federal crop insurance program while promoting disaster relief programs.

Pest and Disease Investment: Our growers appreciate the level of support and attention given to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and pest and disease efforts in the previous Farm Bill. The allocated funds have been effective in addressing several critical issues that, without such support, could have had devastating consequences. Going forward, CAWG strongly advocates for continued emphasis on research and development, tools and strategic measures to protect the agricultural industry from invasive pests and diseases.

Wildfire Smoke Research: And finally, there are always new research priorities that arise. It is crucial for the Farm Bill research title to provide access to funding for the industry to address emerging issues like the impact of wildfire smoke on winegrapes.

CAWG plays a critical role in the success and sustainability of the winegrape industry in California. Through advocacy and education, CAWG helps to ensure that winegrape growers have the support they need to thrive in an ever-changing industry and political climate.
The strength of the association lies in the support it receives from growers and industry partners. Joining CAWG can help you stay informed, connected, and competitive in the dynamic and rapidly changing California winegrape industry. If you are a grower or industry provider looking to improve your business, expand your network, and stay up to date on the latest industry trends, joining CAWG is a wise business investment.

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