January 10, 2008

U.S. Rep. Conaway Says Pierce's Disease Research Vital to Wine-Grape Industry

Writer(s):Paul Schattenberg, 210-467-6575, paschattenberg@ag.tamu.edu
Contact(s): Dr. James Supak, 979-255-5611, j-supak@tamu.edu
Jim Kamas, 830-997-7047, j-kamas@tamu.edu

[Editors Note: On Jan. 1, the name Texas Cooperative Extension was changed to Texas AgriLife Extension Service and the name Texas Agricultural Experiment Station was changed to Texas AgriLife Research.]

FREDERICKSBURG – Pierce’s disease research is “vital to the long-term value of the wine-grape industry,” in Texas and beyond, said U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Midland, during a recent tour of the Texas Pierce’s Disease Research and Extension Program facility in Fredericksburg.

“The Texas wine industry contributes more than $1 billion annually to the state’s economy,” said the congressman. “We’ve got to support research toward finding out more about how Pierce’s disease is transmitted and how (wine-grape) plants can be protected from it.”

Pierce’s disease is the primary threat to wine-grape production in Texas and other wine-grape producing states, according to industry experts. Wine-grape researchers and growers, as well as commercial winery owners and others involved in the Texas wine industry, estimate millions of dollars in loss each year due to the disease.

Data from the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association shows there are currently about 3,700 acres of family-owned vineyard land in the state.

“Pierce’s disease is not just a Texas problem, it’s a national problem.” said Cord Switzer, owner of Fredericksburg Winery, who toured the facility with the congressman. “Funding for Pierce’s disease research in Texas is very important because it translates into better data that can be used not only here, but also in California and other wine-grape growing states.”

Conaway and his staff were “extremely involved” in helping establish the Fredericksburg facility and supportive of efforts to find a solution for Pierce’s disease, said Switzer.

“(Rep. Conaway) has been a great supporter and knows how important this research is – not only for Texas but for other wine-grape producing states as well,” he said. “He understands that this is a serious economic issue that ultimately affects the entire country.”

Switzer added that he and other vineyard and commercial winery owners, primarily from California, will go to Washington, D.C., soon to meet with legislators and discuss Pierce’s disease research relative to the new Farm Bill.

“The specialty crop funding portion of the new Farm Bill is essential to these efforts,” he said. “So is the clean plant portion of the bill, because this will greatly help reduce instances of disease transmission from infected plants.”

The Pierce’s Disease facility in Fredericksburg is operated by Texas AgriLife Research and Texas AgriLife Extension Service, both agencies of the Texas A&M University System. The 3,200-square-foot facility, which opened June of last year, includes a main building, greenhouses and a 1-acre research and demonstration vineyard.

The facility was built with funding and the strong support of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, federal, state and local officials, academics and private individuals, particularly Gillespie County businessman Sam Golden and his wife Nancy, said Dr. James Supak. Pierce’s disease program coordinator for Texas AgriLife Research.

“This facility itself has been an excellent example of how groups can and do work together to accomplish a goal,” said Supak. “We feel the same spirit of cooperation will ultimately lead us to a better understanding of Pierce’s disease and promote open exchange with scientists in other states, especially California.”

One of the main goals of the facility’s research is to provide data for the development of best management practices for wine-grape producers, he said.

Research and education efforts at the facility focus on analyzing host plants, identifying disease vectors, understanding how the disease is transmitted, and finding the best methods to detect and control it, said Jim Kamas, AgriLife Extension fruit specialist and outreach coordinator for the program.

“We have verified instances of Pierce’s disease in all wine-grape growing areas of the Texas,” said Kamas.
Current program research efforts include evaluating new disease-tolerant wine-grape plant selections and varieties from California, Florida and Arkansas, he said.

The facility’s new test vineyard would allow more precise scientific research on wine-grape variety susceptibility to the disease, as well as the impact of environmental factors, he said

“We are also hoping to be able to get more information about the relationship between the disease and the insects that transmit it,” said Isabelle Lauziere, a research entomologist at the facility.

“The people here at the Pierce’s disease facility are doing a full-court press to find a solution to this problem,” said Conaway at the end of his tour. “It’s important that we support and fund this type of research.”