Dr. Thomas Henick-Kling is hopeful research funding will be restored in the next Farm Bill.

Dr. Thomas Henick-Kling is hopeful research funding will be restored in the next Farm Bill.

Though the viticulture and enology program at Washington State University has largely heldits own during the last five years of drastic cuts from state allocations, viticulture and enology researchers are feeling the squeeze from ­Congress’s move to halt federal earmarks.

The term “earmark” refers to legislation inserted in the federal budget that directs approved funding to be spent on specific projects, in this case the Northwest Center for Small Fruits Research Center and the Viticulture Consortium. The two-year moratorium on earmarks eliminated about one-third of the center’s research grant funding ($307,000) and about $1 million in research grants for the Viticulture Consortium. Loss of the earmarks will impact nearly all areas of WSU’s viticulture and enology research, says Dr. Thomas Henick-Kling, director of WSU’s viticulture and enology program.

“All total, between the Small Fruits Center and Consortium, losses to WSU’s viticulture and enology program equal about $500,000,” said Henick-Kling.

Small Fruits Center

“Viticulture and enology researchers have lost ten research assistantships from the Small Fruits Center cuts,” he said. “Pretty much every researcher in our program has received some research funds from the center, from technical support to assistantship funds. The lost research funds pretty much cut across the board of all of our viticulture and enology research ­projects.”

WSU viticulture and enology researchers led about a third of the research projects funded by the center in its most recent funding cycle. Some 30 to 40 projects were funded annually at amounts up to $35,000. Research priorities include: genetics, pest management, berry and grape processing, production and physiology, and wine. The research grant funding, with projects approved by an industry committee, allowed industry to respond quickly to emerging pests and issues, such as the spotted wing drosophila.

The center was established in 1990 as a research consortium to coordinate and conduct research for small fruits—grapes, strawberries, blueberries, cane berries, and such.

Administration and its primary research facility are located in Corvallis, Oregon, but the joint research consortium also involves agricultural experiment stations of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, and grape and berry industry groups. The center provides a forum for Northwest small fruit producers, processors, and wineries to share problems, determine priorities, and direct federal grant dollars that augment state funded programs.

The majority of the center’s funding comes from the USDA-ARS Northwest Small Fruits Research budget of $6.4 million and includes funds for ARS researchers, the Small Fruits Initiative (a plant improvement program), and about $700,000 of the center’s competitive grants program. With the loss of the $300,000 earmark, no new research projects were funded in 2011 and the request for new research proposals for 2012 was cancelled.

The center also supported the Northwest Berry and Grape Information Network, a Web site (http://berrygrape.org) with resources for small fruit production ­practices, research, and marketing.

Viticulture Consortium

The Viticulture Consortium, a national research program established in 1996, is a peer-reviewed grant ­program that, in conjunction with industry, assists universities and agricultural research stations in developing and maintaining competitive viticulture industries. Cornell University in New York administers the Viticulture Consortium East and the University of California, Davis, administers the Viticulture Consortium West. The consortium was funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Cooperative State Research, Extension, and Education Service.

During the 2010–2011 funding cycle, Viticulture West funded about $500,000 of viticulture and enology research, according to Dr. Deborah Golino, Consortium West program director. A similar amount in grant money has been distributed to the Consortium East. In the last 15 years, the Consortium West funded some 260 of 1,300 proposals submitted by researchers in the western states, Texas, and Oklahoma.

Currently, the Viticulture Consortium is the only nationally competitive source of funding for cutting-edge, high priority viticulture, Golino stated. In 2009, grapes had a national farm-gate value of $3.2 billion, making grapes the highest value fruit crop in the United States, according to USDA statistics. Grapes (table, grape juice products, raisins, and wine) are also the largest horticultural export in the United States and reached $1.58 billion in 2009.

State budget cuts

As a college, Washington State University has lost 52 percent of its state-funded allocations in the last five years. But because of preplanning and prioritizing of key programs before the downward budget spiral, the agricultural college, and more specifically the viticulture and enology program, has experienced relatively minor budget cuts in the same time period.

During statewide juice and wine grape meetings held last November, Henick-Kling said that in recent years, agricultural researchers helped bring in more than 80 percent of additional extramural funds through private grants. The extramural funds helped offset state cuts to extension and research funding that has declined by 14 percent the last five years. In 2011, 56 percent of WSU’s agricultural research was funded by extramural grants compared with 41 percent in 2006.

But even with such stepped-up efforts by researchers, the viticulture and enology program—with expenditures totaling more than $5 million—is still heavily dependent on state funds, he said. “The decline in state and federal funding to the program, from $3.93 million in 2010 to $3.52 million last year, has had consequences to WSU’s agricultural research enterprise,” he said.

Henick-Kling pointed to a grim state economic forecast that calls for potentially more cuts to state-allocated funding and uncertainty with research funding in the next Farm Bill. He’s hopeful some research funding can be rechanneled in the next Farm Bill.

He commended private industry partners for increasing industry commitment to WSU—commodity groups gave $5.6 million in 2011 for WSU research grants and programs.

Additionally, the state’s apple and pear growers have committed to a $27 million investment over the next eight years for research and extension, and the wine industry, through the Washington Wine Commission, will raise $7.4 million in the coming years to help complete a Wine Science Center at the WSU Tri-Cities campus.