Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Trying to Boost NY's Concord Grape Industry

The first-ever New York State Concord Grape Summit was held in April in hopes of revitalizing and expanding the state's Concord grape industry. 

Concord grapes from Western New York
Farmers, researchers, and industry leaders met with state officials to discuss industry growth challenges and explore new opportunities for Concord grape growers in New York. 

During the summit, several initiatives were announced to help strengthen the industry, including expanding research, investing in new product and new market development, and expanding marketing and promotional programs to encourage increased growth in this sector.

"Western New York's Concord grape industry exemplifies the very best of this state's diverse agriculture," said Gov. Andrew Cuomo. "By expanding research and marketing opportunities for both Concord grape growers and processors, we can provide a boost to the agricultural community, grow business, and create new jobs in this region and across New York."

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul opened-up the summit at the Grape Discovery Center in Chautauqua County, the heart of Concord grape growing in the Eastern United States.

"As a lifelong visitor to Chautauqua County, I know there is tremendous local pride in the fact that it is the world's largest contiguous Concord grape growing region," she said.

"Concord grapes grown across the Lake Erie shoreline are an important part of the diverse agricultural landscape of New York state. The Governor and I are committed to doing everything we can to support the grape industry and agricultural products across the state."

Hochul said those at the summit heard from stakeholders including farmers, researchers and industry leader. "Now we can move forward with solutions to address the challenges facing the Grape Belt here in Western New York," she said.

New York is the nation's second largest Concord grape producer, and the Lake Erie Concord Belt is the oldest and largest Concord grape growing region in the world. About 30,000 acres of grape vineyards are located along the belt with the majority, more than 18,000 acres, growing in New York state. 

The Concord variety is used in the production of many value-added products, including grape juice, jellies and marmalades, and wine.

New York's Concord Grape industry has a significant impact on the state economy and beyond. A study conducted by the Lake Erie Concord Grape Belt Heritage Association, with assistance from Cornell University and Pennsylvania State University, estimated that each year, growers in the Concord Grape Belt produce 150,000 tons or more of Concord grapes on 30,000 acres of vineyards. 

Dozens of value-added products are processed locally and sold across the United States and exported around the world. Overall, grape-related production activities like growing, processing and winemaking support nearly 2,000 jobs and contribute $340 million in total economic impact.

In recent years, New York's Concord grape growers have experienced challenges due to a combination of changing consumer preferences for juice products and oversupply of product that has reduced grape prices. Juice and jelly production businesses are also being impacted, with many closing or reducing production as a result.
The Concord Grape Summit brought together agriculture, research and business leaders to discuss new developments and strategies to reinvigorate New York's Concord grape industry and boost the state's agricultural economy. 

Based on the input of these key stakeholders, several innovative actions were announced to increase opportunities for farms and businesses in this agricultural sector.
Advance Research
  • Support research on denaturing Concord juice to create a neutral blending juice for wine through a public-private partnership between Cornell University and Welch's.
  • Support, in partnership with Cornell University, a Vine Certification Program to ensure disease-free planting stock.
  • Provide $300,000 to Cornell University for food science research and development of new products using Concords.
  • Corrnell University's Breeding Program will release NY 98, a seedless, sweet table grape with the color of a Concord.
Develop New Products and Markets

The State will invest in several marketing strategies to support the development of new products made from Concord grapes and to introduce Concord grape growers to new markets, including: 

  • Host the "Grape State of NY Competition" to challenge New York food and beverage manufacturers to develop new product lines using Concord grapes and grape juice.
  • Launch a $100,000 Market Development Grants Program to support new Concord marketing opportunities.
  • Increase grape industry representation at domestic and international trade shows, including events in Chicago, Orlando and New York City.
  • Hold two workshops on export opportunities and marketing assistance.
  • Focus on institutional purchasing of grape juice.
Vineyard Improvement Program

New York will invest more than $1.2 million to help Concord grape growers renovate vineyards, plant new vines, or diversify vineyard operations.
Increase Grape Marketing and Promotions Programs

  • Launch a new Brandy Competition addition to the Governor's Cup, challenging winemakers to develop a unique New York craft beverage featuring Concords.
  • Showcase Concord grape products at Taste NY Welcome Centers.
  • Hold "It's a Grape Day" at the Great New York State Fair, which will feature a variety of grape vendors in the Taste NY Marketplace at the Fair. 
  • Expand the NYS Grown & Certified program to include grape juice and wine.

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