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Mikkel Pates, Forum News Service, Published May 03 2013

ND grape growers get $80,000 in state funding to develop wine industry

The North Dakota grape industry is toasting victories in the state Legislature, even though the emerging industry didn’t get all the funding it sought.

North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple on April 19 signed Senate Bill 2146, which appropriates $80,000 for the biennium and creates the new Grape and Wine Advisory Committee. The bill makes the funds available for research, education and promotion of grapes, fruit and wine.

Paul Anderson, of Rutland, president of the organization, and a small vineyard operator, said the $80,000 is “something, and it’s going to help us in our industry. We’re happy with that.”

“We were hoping for more money, but we will graciously accept it and make it work,” echoed Rod Ballinger of Fargo, who was pushing for the bill. “We are fortunate to have our North Dakota State University (research) team in place and ready to go.”

Earlier in the session, the Legislature passed House Bill 1077, which gave North Dakota wineries the right to sell direct-to-retail, passing with only one “no” vote.

The group initially sought $350,000 in the House bill. The Senate passed a version at $200,000. Some opponents earlier questioned whether the industry needs research funds, comparing it with commodity organizations that raise those funds through their own checkoffs.

Anderson said there was a surcharge per pound of grapes sold in the original bill, but that wouldn’t have raised sufficient funds because the volume is so small.

In 2009, the Legislature appropriated $250,000 for the start of grape variety research. In the 2011 session, however, the direct-to-retail bill narrowly lost and the organization didn’t get any funding for research and education.

NDSU plans to transplant 6,000 seedlings from a greenhouse in the next few weeks.

“I would suspect some are disappointed with the amount, but any funding will drive the industry to the next level,” Anderson said. The group is “proactively pursuing” additional funding options to supplement the $80,000, he said.

The new advisory committee will go into effect Aug. 1 and will work with North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring on issuing grants from the $80,000.

Mikkel Pates writes for Agweek