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Improving Grape Quarantine Policy

December 2008
by Hudson Cattell
N90 Vineyards
The group that helped usher N90 Riesling through the approval process--(from left) Frederick Frank, Alan Green, Eric Volz, Marc Fuchs, Patrick Hooker and Tom Burr--cuts a ceremonial ribbon.
On Oct. 9, Fred Frank, president of Dr. Konstantin Frank's Vinifera Wine Cellars in Hammondsport, N.Y., hosted a ceremony officially releasing Riesling clone N90 from quarantine. That this was no ordinary release was underscored by the presence of two high-ranking officials from USDA's APHIS-PPQ division, New York state's commissioner of Agriculture and Markets, and the director of Cornell University's New York State Agricultural Experiment Station. Frank represented his father, Willy Frank, who was responsible for the collaborative effort involving federal and state government and a major university that resulted in what was termed a unique introduction of a foreign grapevine brought into the United States without going through the usual lengthy quarantine process. It took less than two years and four months from the time 1,500 N90 vines left Germany's Neustadt Research Station until they were planted in Hammondsport and officially released from quarantine. Had the usual procedure been followed, it would have taken perhaps 7 years to pass 10 or 20 cuttings through indexing in quarantine and then propagate them in the quantity wanted.

The introduction of N90 was unique only in that it was the first successful importation of its kind. Nearly 25 years ago, on Feb. 15, 1984, I interviewed Dr. Robert P. Kahn, plant pathologist and senior staff officer of the Biological Assessment Support Staff at APHIS in Hyattsville, Md., on grapevine importation laws and a modification of quarantine procedures. Dr. Kahn stated that the biggest deterrent to grapevine smuggling would be to reduce the incentive for smuggling, and he was proposing a change in regulations that would permit a foreign nursery to bring vines directly into the United States, in quantity or otherwise, as long as the nursery met current U.S. standards for a phytosanitary certificate.

As Dr. Kahn put it, "If we can find good sources from Europe that can supply commercial quantities of grapevines that meet standards we have set for our own importation of grapes for scientific purposes, and we can be assured of the integrity of meeting those standards through their own government, we can circumvent smuggling by making it possible for new lines from Europe to get in quickly."

We endorsed Dr. Kahn's proposal back then--nearly 25 years ago--because it met the needs of breeders and growers and also provided protection of North American viticulture from viruses from abroad.

According to Dr. Murali Bandla, director of plant safeguarding and pest identification at APHIS-PPQ, an initiative to change plant quarantine procedures was already under way when the N90 clone request came up for consideration and APHIS decided to use it as a pilot. This initiative, which would not take effect until after a rulemaking process was concluded, would allow registered nurserymen to bring in a limited quantity of grape nursery stock from USDA-approved sources outside the United States. In order to be approved, the exporter should be a government-controlled institute practicing the same safeguarding procedures as PPQ quarantine programs. "The material from these approved sources," Bandla said, "would come into the United States to the nurseries and would be under audit of the state and national Clean Plant Network center for some specified time just like Frank's N90 clone."

The rulemaking process, however, will probably not begin for two years. When it finally happens, it will be an important benefit for growers and breeders. Congratulations are due to PPQ for taking the step that Dr. Kahn advocated so many years ago.
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