Lake Erie Regional Grape Program Celebrates 25 Years

State Sen. Cathy Young pictured Saturday at the Cornell Lake Erie Research Extension Laboratory. P-J photo by Tonja Dodd

PORTLAND — At the Cornell Lake Erie Research Extension Laboratory in West Portland, an institution celebrated its 25th year Saturday since its conception. The Lake Erie Regional Grape Program (LERGP), accompanied by guest speakers, hosted an open house to commemorate its longevity.

“Thank you for all that you do to promote the agriculture industry not only in New York state and Pennsylvania but actually across the entire country,” said state Senator Cathy Young. “Because you’re leading the way in research and production and I am so proud of that fact because the fact that we have this in my district really is phenomenal.”

The Lake Erie Regional Grape Program encapsulates vineyards over 30,000 acres across 840 farms. The reach of the LERGP has made the Lake Erie region — comprised of New York and Pennsylvania — the second largest grape producer outside of California, within the United States. The research that the LERGP collaborates on, on a yearly average, includes 1,600 participants that spans over 30 educational events.

Young later explained how the extension laboratory was actually located in Fredonia prior to being relocated to Portland.

“For years, we knew, that the facility in Fredonia had been outgrown … it just wasn’t sufficient to do the type of research that they needed to do,” Young said. “So, we pushed very hard on the state level, about 10 or 11 years ago, to be able to secure the funding to really get this going and Cornell has really chipped in and other entities but really this dream became a reality about nine years ago when we actually opened the doors.”

Young, former chair of the Agriculture Committee and current Chair of the Finance Committee, acknowledged that sometimes it’s hard to reserve funds to certain industries in state government, but made a promise to the people inside CLEREL.

“My commitment is to make sure that we continue to fund this program [and] other agriculture programs throughout the state, especially through Cornell,” Young said. “As you know, we go through a budget dance every year and unfortunately, often times, there are cuts on the executive proposal to our vital agriculture programs and in the Senate we work very, very hard to restore those programs because we understand how crucial these programs are to our future in New York.”

Also in attendance was Jacqueline Phelps, regional director to Rep. Tom Reed. Phelps spoke highly of the program on behalf of the congressman.

“Thank you for all the work that you do,” Phelps said. “We live in a beautiful agricultural area and we’re so blessed to have a multitude of different agricultural industries within the overall industry. The congressman has been so supportive of our industry because of all that it does for not only the United States but for the world.”

Chris Watkins, director of Cooperative Extension for Cornell University, was also in attendance and spoke to those gathered. Watkins spoke highly of the partnership between Cornell and the LERGP. He alluded to the cost-efficient work that the facility produces and will continue to produce.

“It’s really an incredible resource that we have here,” Watkins said. “At a time that we try to make sure we maximize the use every dollar that we have.”

The Lake Erie Regional Grape Program invited members of the community to participate on the tour of the laboratory and see the work that takes place. There tables set up with informative details of the grape program and a hay ride through the grapes was also available.

“I just want to say to everyone involved, keep going, keep going strong, you are critical to our economy,” Young said.