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Editor's Letter

 

Time to Renew PD Funding

April 2010
 
by Jim Gordon
 
 
It is time for California grapegrowers to renew their self-assessment to fund the ongoing fight against Pierce’s disease. At the current assessment rate of $1 per $1,000 of crop value, it has to be the world’s best bargain in disease prevention.

Wines & Vines urges our readers to look for their ballots in the mail during April, and to return them with “yes” votes by April 27. Be aware that if you operate more than one vineyard property or vineyard business entity, you may get more than one ballot. If so, you should mark all of the ballots and return them all.

The referendum can renew for another five years the assessment first established in 2001. Growers renewed it the first time with a vote in 2005. They have contributed $34 million over nine years, which then leveraged roughly 10 times that amount from state and federal sources. The assessment allows for growers to be charged up to $3 per $1,000 of crop value, but for the past two years the rate has been set at $1.

Nearly everyone who farms grapes or makes wine in California remembers what prompted this massive effort. Pierce’s disease attacked vineyards in the Temecula area during the 1990s, thanks to the appearance of the glassy-winged sharpshooter (GWSS), a non-native leafhopper, which on its arrival began spreading the disease from vine to vine and vineyard to vineyard. Leaves began to burn and drop; vines themselves began to die. By 1999 half of Temecula’s vineyard acres had been destroyed.

A cure was needed. That required research, and the research required money. The money came. Ten years later PD still exists, but thanks to the grower assessment and a lot of hard work, a massive two-pronged campaign has: 1) controlled the spread of the GWSS and the disease, and 2) identified several potential ways to cure or disrupt the disease over the long run.

Public funds have paid for most of the control campaign, which has succeeded in stopping the spread of GWSS from Southern California into Northern. Draw a line from Santa Barbara over and through Fresno to picture the GWSS frontier. Below that line the insects are still prevalent; above it they are not permanently established.

But even in infected areas of Southern California, including Temecula, control and eradication methods have succeeded in minimizing PD and enabling the wine industry to revive, though vineyards have not yet regained the acreage they claimed prior to the crisis.

One reason the current vote is so important is that the various state and federal fund sources are not guaranteed to continue, especially under the pressure of the current poor economy. If the money for controlling the GWSS slips, it will be more important than ever for the industry to finish the long-term research and get its solutions implemented.

These five strategies seem most promising for control and prevention:

• New PD-resistant grape varieties resulting from traditional breeding

• PD disruption in grape varieties resulting from genetic modification

• PD-controlling rootstocks that disrupt the disease in commercial scion varieties

• Bacterial endophytes that colonize the vine’s water-conducting tissue and disrupt PD

• External sprays of compounds/molecules that disrupt PD

To keep all these promising strategies moving forward, growers need to renew the funding mechanism. Renewal has wide support among winegrape growers and wineries, including endorsements from the California Association of Winegrape Growers, Family Winemakers of California, Wine Institute and others. For a great summary of the need for the funding, and the issues surrounding PD/GWSS, please go to protectyourvineyard.com, a website set up by these three industry groups.

Ballots were scheduled to be mailed beginning March 29, but they may not reach everyone for a couple of weeks. Remember that April 27 is the deadline to return your ballot. For more information about the balloting, please contact the California Department of Food and Agriculture Marketing Branch at (916) 341-6005. If you have questions about the assessment, please contact the CDFA Pierce’s Disease Control Program at (916) 322-3400.

At least 40% of eligible entities must cast their ballots for the referendum to count. Remember that you should vote on all the ballots you receive. Unlike Chicago elections in years gone by, this opportunity to vote early and often is a legitimate one.
 
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