Washington State diversified farmer Brenton Roy wants to see more of the state’s wine grape industry attend a national grape policy conference held annually in Washington, D.C. He believes so strongly in the value of the conference that he ­hasn’t missed attending any the last five years.

Roy, of Oasis Farms in Prosser, is president of the Winegrape Growers of America, a national organization representing the U.S. wine grape growing industry. A fourth-generation farmer, he oversees production of the family’s tree fruit, grapes, and hops.

“The value of attending the annual conference is more than just a legislative return on investment,” he said to Good Fruit Grower. “I’ve also had tangible results in meeting grape growers from other states that I would never have known without attending. These contacts have helped me network with other growers—I’ve called California growers in several instances to ask them about different things.”

On the policy side, Roy said the annual D.C. event, with an average attendance of 30 to 50 wine grape industry members from around the country, helps build relationships between congressional staff and industry. Moreover, it gives legislators and staff a chance to meet with “real” growers and learn about their issues.

Public policy

The theme of the upcoming conference to be held March 17-20 at the Holiday Inn Capitol is “Public Policy impacting your bottom line: research, labor, clean plants, and the Farm Bill.” Speakers will include regulatory and elected officials, political consultants, and industry experts.

Vicky Scharlau, executive director of the Washington Association of Wine grape Growers, is spearheading the conference. Traditionally, the California Association of Winegrape Growers has organized the event, according to Roy.

Although day-to-day management of Winegrape Growers of America is by the California Association of Winegrape Growers, lobbyists that represent the national grape growers group are based in the nation’s capital.

Roy, a past president of the Washington grape growers group and newly appointed grower member of the Washington Wine Commission, said this is the first time the national conference has been actively promoted to Washington grape growers.

“Before, there was a lack of grower interest in attending. But I think that’s changing,” he said, pointing to three big issues directly impacting grape growers that will highlight the conference—immigration reform, research, and the Farm Bill. Growers who are members of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers are considered members of the national group. State grape grower organizations comprise the membership of the national group, which was formed in 1978.

Officers for 2012 are: Brenton Roy, Washington, president; Don Tones, New York, vice president; and Kim Ledbetter-Bronson, California, secretary/treasurer. John Aguirre of Sacramento, California, is executive director.

For more information, e-mail the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers at: info@wawgg.org  or call toll free (877) 889-2944.