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CDFA Plans Review of Grapevine Certification Program

Red Blotch Drives Concerns about Clean Vines from Nurseries
by Ted Rieger
October 28, 2014

An ad hoc group of industry members has met several times since April to examine the issue of nursery certification in relation to clean vine material

CDFA plans to hold the first public scoping meeting in early December

Losses “in the hundreds of millions of dollars”

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) plans to begin a review process in December of the California Grapevine Registration and Certification Program in response to wine and grape industry concerns about the potential presence of Grapevine Red Blotch-associated virus GRBaV, and variants of leafroll viruses in certified nursery stock sold in California.

John Crossland, of Vineyard Professional Services, a vineyard management company in Paso Robles, recently submitted a letter to CDFA requesting that program regulations be reviewed for possible revision, after his involvement in an ad hoc group of industry members that has met several times since April to examine the issue of nursery certification in relation to clean vine material.

Crossland, a member of the CDFA Pierce’s Disease/Glassy-winged Sharpshooter Board, discussed the issue at the PD/GWSS Board meeting October 27, saying he became involved based on his experience as a nursery customer. In April, the Board designated GRBaV as a new serious pest or disease of winegrapes for Board study and potential funding for research and outreach activities.

Crossland explained: “Growers in recent years have bought plant material in good faith that was represented by the nurseries as being clean, and that has not always been the case. We went to CDFA and said there are problems out here because material labeled and sold as “certified” was not a guarantee that growers were getting clean vines. Vines are being sold and planted in California and out-of-state that decline soon after planting.”

Crossland estimated that grower losses related to the cost of vine materials, labor for planting and replanting, and lost production have totaled “in the hundreds of millions of dollars” in recent years. He summarized, “We decided to be proactive and request a review to determine if the program regulations need to be changed.”

The Grapevine Registration and Certification Program was started in the 1950s and program regulations were most recently revised in 2010. Regulations require that vine material certified under the program be tested for a specific list of grapevine viruses, however, GRBaV, officially recognized only since 2012, is not included in this list. There are also concerns that variants of leafroll viruses will not always be detected under currently used testing methods.

Foundation Plant Services (FPS) at the University of California Davis has been testing its Foundation block vine materials for GRBaV since 2013 and is now following Protocol 2010 standards for vine testing and propagation established under the National Clean Plant Network--protocols more stringent than the CDFA program. Under the Grapevine Registration and Certification Program, FPS serves as the source of Foundation block certified material made available to nurseries for propagation in increase blocks. Many California grapevine nurseries have voluntarily been testing their vine material for GRBaV and have upgraded their propagation and growing practices in response to industry concerns.

Joshua Kress, supervisor of the CDFA Nursery, Seed and Cotton Program within the Pest Exclusion Branch, who also spoke at the PD Board meeting, said Crossland’s request has been accepted, and CDFA plans to hold the first public scoping meeting in early December to take input on issues to address as part of the regulatory review process.

The grapevine certification program is voluntary, with more than 30 California nurseries as approved participants. Participants apply to be in the program and pay fees for approval, and for regular inspection and testing of grapevine nursery blocks. Potential issues to address in revising the regulations, in addition to more virus testing, include increasing the frequency of CDFA inspections at certified nurseries, and a possible increase in fees to cover these costs. Kress noted that CDFA’s current annual budget for nursery inspections is less than $300,000.

Crossland observed, “Program changes could cost a substantial amount of money in increased costs for nurseries and their customers, but it will be small in comparison to what people are paying now for vines that don’t survive.”

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