Making Progress

Making Progress in the Fight Against PD

At Stake: Millions in Funding for Research to Fight Pierce’s Disease

The fight against Pierce’s Disease and the Glassy-Winged Sharpshooter has accelerated in the three-and-a-half years since California winegrape growers initiated an assessment to create the PD/GWSS Board to underwrite critical research.

In December, the PD/GWSS Board drew more than 175 renowned scientists from around the world to the fourth annual Research Symposium in San Diego. The annual three-day Pierce’s Disease Research Symposium, coordinated by the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Pierce’s Disease Control Program and supported by the PD/GWSS Board, provides scientists and researchers with a way to learn from each other’s progress and often speed up their own work by incorporating the advances already achieved by their colleagues. This event also offers growers a chance to review research one-on-one with the scientists and learn about the different solutions being proposed to positively impact their business.

“Research will give us the solution to Pierce’s Disease,” said Brad Lange, PD/GWSS Board chair. “It is through this symposium that researchers can tell us about their progress and learn from each other’s work as well as generate new ideas about how they can help growers deal with Pierce’s Disease and GWSS.”

At the Symposium, researchers listened to several reports, including one from the National Academy of Science, and a panel discussion on research funding. In addition, researchers were able to discuss their projects one-on-one with colleagues.

Dr. Alexander “Sandy” Purcell, a leading PD/GWSS scientist from UC Berkeley, expressed the positive effects the PD Research Symposium has had on his research efforts. “I was an early disbeliever in the exclusion (PD control) program. In 1996, I felt that Pandora’s box had already been opened and that it was too late. But I see now that I was wrong and that it is working. Although it is expensive, the program is saving hundreds of millions of dollars in crops, especially in the wine industry.”

Central Coast winegrape grower and PD/GWSS Board member Dana Merrill also found value in the Symposium. “We’re seeing good results. When questions were asked during the Symposium, someone usually had the answer. That’s in sharp contrast to the first couple of years when the typical answer was: ‘We don’t know yet.’ That change is direct evidence that these research projects are making progress and yielding results.”

The grape grower assessment, which established the PD/GWSS Board, is coming up for a referendum this spring, according to CDFA. Ballots will be sent out during the week of May 16, 2004, to all of the state’s winegrape growers who paid the assessment for the 2004 harvest. Once the ballots are mailed, they must be returned within 30 days to be counted. At least 40 percent of eligible growers must cast ballots to validate the referendum.

“To date, the current assessment has raised nearly $14 million,” said Bob Wynn, CDFA’s statewide coordinator for the Pierce’s Disease Control Program. “More importantly, by assessing themselves, growers demonstrated their concern to government officials about the PD/GWSS threat, and we’ve been able to leverage those funds tenfold with state and federal grants to help contain GWSS.”

For more information about the referendum and how assessment funds have been used to protect the livelihood of California’s winegrape industry, log on to

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