Risk Management in Spanish

The Washington State Department of Agriculture has produced a five-disc set of audio compact discs in Spanish for Latino farmers. The set includes ten 30-minute segments on topics such as business and financial planning, marketing, crop insurance, good farm practices, safe use of pesticides, food safety, alternative energy, and state and federal farm projects.

Several Spanish-language radio stations will air the CDs, which were produced with assistance from Washington State University with a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency.

For a free set of the CDs, which are entitled "Risk Management Strategies for Farm Businesses: Information for Latino Farmers in Washington State," contact Patrice Barrentine at smallfarms@agr.wa.gov or phone (360) 902-2057, or Malaquias Flores, Latino outreach coordinator for the WSU Small Farms Project, at (866) 978-9165.

First Crush

A new wine facility at Washington State University’s Irrigated Agriculturel Research and Extension Center at Prosser brings winemaking research to a new level of detail, says Dan Bernardo, dean of WSU’s agriculture college. The facility, with capacity for 5,000 gallons, will use university-grown grapes and those from cooperating vineyards to look at the influence on wine from such things as own-rooted versus grafted grapes and fermentation practices, temperatures, and equipment. WSU enologist Dr. James Harbertson said that the research winery was designed for small-lot, research-scale production.

Ste. Michelle’s Parent Company Purchased

Altria Group, Inc., plans to purchase U.S. Tobacco, Inc., the holding company of U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, headquartered in Washington State. The $10-billion-plus deal is to close no later than early January 2009, if approved by shareholders in a special meeting on December 4, according to a U.S. Tobacco news release. The Federal Trade Commission has granted early termination of the initial waiting period under antitrust laws, so no further regulatory review is required in connection with the acquisition.

The buyout will significantly boost Altria’s position in the smokeless tobacco market with U.S. Tobacco’s Skoal and Copenhagen brands. UST’s history dates back to 1822 when Copenhagen snuff inventor George Weyman opened a tobacco shop in Pittsburgh, states U.S. Tobacco’s Web site.

What the acquisition means for Washington State’s largest wine company is unclear. Chateau St. Michelle, one of the oldest vinifera wineries in the state and precursor to Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, has produced premium wines since 1967. The company has had a major influence in development of the state’s wine industry, providing an endowment gift in 1995 to WSU for viticulture and enology research, sharing private research with industry, and providing leadership to many industry organizations.

With 20 different labels and an estimated annual sales volume of 5 million cases, wineries and vineyards of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates cover the West Coast. Washington wineries include Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville, Columbia Crest in Paterson, Snoqualmie in Prosser, Northstar and Spring Valley Vineyard in Walla Walla, and the new Col Solare on Red Mountain that opened last year in partnership with Italy’s Antinori family. The company owns Erath in Dundee, Oregon, and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Villa Mt. Eden, Conn Creek, and Distant Bay wineries in northern and central California.

Some industry analysts say Altria is unlikely to keep Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and could sell it soon after the acquisition is complete. Whether it’s sold as a single unit or broken into smaller pieces, the wine company is an attractive piece of wine real estate. Ste. Michelle Wine Estates was named the 2007 Winery of the Year at the Unified Wine and Grape Symposium.

Herbicide-Resistant Grape

University of Illinois researchers have developed a new grape named Improved Chancellor that is resistant to the broadleaf weed herbicide 2,4-D. Grapevines are particularly sensitive to 2,4-D, a common herbicide used in grain and field crops.

UI plant biologist Dr. Robert Skirvin genetically transferred the gene to grape cells, using a soil bacterium gene discovered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to break down 2,4-D, and then developed grape plants from the transgenic grape cells through tissue culture. Skirvin hopes to have permission to grow the genetically modified vines outside the greenhouse in an isolation plot by spring 2009. Further tests are needed to make sure harmful compounds are not getting into the fruit and to follow what happens to the herbicide compound after it enters the plants. He plans to work with a grape grower to produce wines made from the cultivar within five years and is looking for outside funding sources to further advance the research.

"After the grapes have been tested and found safe to eat, I think it’s going to be beneficial to Minnesota, Nebraska, Illinois, and other Midwestern states—anywhere grain is grown and 2,4-D is sprayed on the crops," Skirvin stated in a news release.

Consumer Attitudes

"Issues Scan 2008" is a new research report from United Fresh that looks at consumer attitudes and behaviors relating to food safety, environmental and social issues, product origin, and different types of packaging or processing.

The report costs $125 for United Fresh members and $195 for non-members and can be ordered online at www.unitedfresh.org. For information, call (202) 303 3400.