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Disaster aid bill would compensate farmers for grape crops damaged by wildfires

The vineyards at the Somerston Estate Winery & Vineyards are obscured by smoke
Somerston Estate Winery & Vineyards in St. Helena Calif., seen above on Sept. 30, 2020, was among the many wineries that did not produce a 2020 vintage due to the wildfire season.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Wine grapes damaged by smoke are among the crops covered under a $28.6-billion disaster assistance bill for states ravaged by wildfire, drought or hurricanes.

Thick smoke from some of the worst wildfire seasons in history tainted grape harvests in wineries in California, Oregon and Washington between 2017 and 2020. Grapes are damaged when volatile phenols released by burning wood are absorbed at a higher-than-usual levels and the flavor is affected.

Some California winemakers didn’t make a 2020 vintage after their crops were burned or tainted by smoke, and similar problems are expected because of this year’s fires.

The disaster assistance includes up to $10 billion for various crops nationwide damaged by disasters in 2020 or 2021.

The disaster aid bill is to be included in a spending bill Congress must pass by the end of the month to keep much of government functioning until early December.

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The bill also provides money to replace public and private infrastructure, including $321.4 million to repair NASA facilities and equipment damaged by hurricanes Zeta and Ida; $565 million for the Navy; and $330 million for the Air Force to repair facilities damaged by natural disasters.

California’s wineries in Napa and Sonoma are being hammered on multiple fronts. Vintners are growing weary.

Prospects for the disaster aid are unclear. Democrats are including in the overall package a proposal to suspend the nation’s debt limit through Dec. 16, 2022. Senate Republicans say they want a separate vote on the debt limit.

The House passed the bill Tuesday, but it cannot pass in the Senate without Republican support.

The disaster assistance is seen by some as a sweetener to entice Republican senators who represent states that faced drought, fire or hurricane damage to vote yes.

Also in the bill is $6.3 billion to help resettle Afghan refugees, including $50 million to help the FBI with “investigative activities associated with Afghan resettlement operations.”


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