A Sacramento County Superior Court last week issued a decision upholding the legal status of the California Grape Rootstock Improvement Commission (CGRIC), formed in 1993 to fund and support grape rootstock research for the enhancement of the California viticulture and grape nursery industry. The ruling rejects a suit filed by Duarte Nursery in May 2000 raising several constitutional issues.
The commission is funded by an assessment on rootstock sold to customers. California nurseries currently pay $0.015 per unit for cuttings, rooted rootstock and graphed rootstock. Annual funding ranges depending on the cyclical nature of the industry and peaked at about $341,000.
“We are pleased to finally have this decision,” commission Chairman Ernie Bowman said in a statement. “It confirms what we have believed all these years. Unfortunately, the litigation consumed resources and time but we remained focused throughout and are thankful that now we can fully devote our attention to advancing research efforts for the grapevine rootstock industry in California.”
John Duarte, the president of Duarte Nursery, told winebusiness.com the case will be appealed to the State Supreme Court and that it could take another five years to resolve. “That should give the commission time to release a rootstock that actually matters to the industry,” he said.
“They’re taxing California growers and nurseries to fund rootstock research at UC Davis, mainly conducted by Andy Walker and his laboratory,” Duarte said. “We believe the program has been a waste of money, and we would like not to support it and we will continue to assert our rights not to support the research efforts of Dr Andy Walker as far as the court systems will allow.”
Duarte said the program has spent millions of research dollars producing nothing of value to nurseries or growers. He said the rootstocks the commission released since it was formed were bred by Dr. Walker before the commission existed, some of them more than 20 years ago, and that they were never tested. “To date, we still do not have any data from field trials that growers can rely upon when choosing the rootstocks,” he said. "Currently, the Walker rootstocks developed in his lab's 30 years of efforts don't make up .01 percent of the grapevine rootstocks planted in Califonria today."
Duarte said more than $800,000 of payments from his nursery is in escrow pending the final outcome of the suit. “I hope one day, those dollars can actually be put to something of use for California growers,” he said. “This has got to be one of the most costly and ineffective research boondoggles in the history of California Agriculture.”
“There’s other rootstock research work going on the country that’s worthwhile,” Duarte said. “It’s just that a huge proportion of this commission’s money goes to a researcher who’s been completely ineffective and unproductive. Duarte Nursery would like to not support ineffective and unproductive research efforts. Growers should call the nurseries and ask why they’re interested in sending industry money to support ineffective efforts.”
After a trial in August 2011 centering on due process violations, the Court found that “the statutes authorizing establishment of the Commission and its operations represent a valid exercise of the police power and that the ongoing activities of the Commission also have a real and substantial relationship to the public interest.”
Duarte also filed an unsuccessful suit in a federal court in 1996.
Dr. Walker’s rootstock research focuses on resistance to nematodes, resistance to fan-leaf, better adaptation to drought and salinity and tolerance to a range of viral and fungal diseases.
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