USDA buys surplus Concord juice

Staff Writer
The Chronicle Express

U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand announce they have successfully petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to use $11.5 million to purchase concord grape juice for use in domestic nutrition programs.

According to details released by Schumer and Gillibrand's offices last week, the grape industry has a surplus of Concord grapes used to make Concord juice, as a carryover from a large 2013 crop of grapes.

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. The juice will be used to supplement the USDA's supply for nutrition programs, such as the school lunch program.

Rep. Tom Reed praises the decision after requesting that USDA make the bonus purchase to stabilize the Concord market after the bumper crop of 2013. Reed led a letter with fellow New York Reps. Richard Hanna, Brian Higgins and Bill Owens to Secretary Vilsack encouraging the USDA to implement the bonus buy in August 2013.

"Agriculture is the backbone of our economy in the Southern Tier and the Finger Lakes, and we need to be supporting local growers and farmers any way we can," Reed said. "I am very pleased to see that this funding was approved to help farmers deal with unexpected crop years and market conditions. In addition to supporting our local farmers through the program, the juice purchased by USDA will go to schools across the country for healthy lunch programs."

The Lake Erie grape region covers roughly 30,000 acres and is the oldest and largest Concord region in the world. Many vineyards throughout the Finger Lakes grow Concords as well.

"The USDA's decision to heed our call and purchase more grapes ahead of this year's harvest is a win-win for New York growers and individuals receiving nutrition assistance," said Schumer. "New York's world-class vineyards produce some of the finest grapes, grown by hard-working farm families," said Senator Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. "When we connect our grape growers in Western New York and the Finger Lakes, we can help strengthen our agriculture economy, while bringing healthy, nutritious grape juice to school children across the country."

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.