A “CBS Evening News with Katie Couric” story is shocked, shocked! to learn that $11 million of “your tax dollars” have been allocated to conduct research on wine grapes including a $2.6 million research facility at Cornell.
But they have it wrong: it’s not shockingly bad news, it’s new news. And it’s good news.
Ever since the repeal of Prohibition, the federal government has been reluctant to fund grape research. In fact, in the 1930s, after Repeal, FDR’s Department of Agriculture proposed a wine research facility to be funded with federal funds and help the industry get back on its feet. However, an influential Dry congressman unilaterally vetoed the project wanting to prevent the evil “fermentation.” Since then the federal government has been reluctant to fund wine grape research.
So this $11 million should be seen as a real breakthrough, evidence that the federal government is actually doing something to support wine. With over 5,000 licensed wineries now in the US according to Wine Business Monthly, wine and related grape growing is a rapidly growing sector of American agriculture. For what it’s worth, the industry is very consolidated with the top 30 wine producers making over 90% of the wine. If this funding is going to support the proverbial 4,970 “little guys,” then that is something that would be hard to oppose. CBS, however, does not discuss who will benefit most from this research funding.
In the name of fair and balanced reporting, CBS News should look at other research facilities, such as the National Research Peanut Laboratory. Or how much in federal funds are used in subsidies to field crops such as wheat and corn in the $280 billion (five year) Farm Bill. Or the federal budget overall, now $3 trillion. A subsidy of $11 million in this age of private equity chieftains even seems small by some individual standards. In the federal budget, it’s smaller than a rounding error.