Highest Threat to Washignton Wine Industry
“It’s the singe highest threat to sustainable wine grape production facing our industry,” says Todd Newhouse, owner of Upland Vineyards near Outlook.
The threat Newhouse refers to is the lack of available clean plants for vineyard plantings. Viruses can reduce the life of a vineyard investment by up to 50 percent. Like Newhouse, most growers know that selection of plant material is a pivotal decision in vineyard development because it is one of the most economically sensitive investment decisions made for the long-term.
In 2001, the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers put together a comprehensive plan that would help ensure that planting material entering the state or being sold within the state would be virus-free. Vicky Scharlau, Executive Director of the Association said, “Growers knew having a plan would be the only path to virus-free vineyards and vineyard longevity. We needed to create a pathway to ensure that vines used to plant new vineyards were certified ‘clean’. The industry even funded the startup of a grapevine foundation block in Prosser at WSU’s Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center. They were willing to put their money where their mouth was.”
Fast forward to 2008, and Congress passed H.R. 6124 Food, Conservation, and Energy Act (the Farm Bill) with one section establishing the National Clean Plant Network (NCPN). The purpose of this section was to produce clean ‘starter plants’ through a national partnership focused on diagnosis and elimination of diseases in specialty crops. The section included $5 million a year through the US Department of Ag’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The $5 million supports 23 programs at 19 Clean Plant Centers in 15 states covering fruit trees, grapes, citrus, berries, and hops.
“Without the Clean Plant Centers we would not be able to provide a clean grape vine to our customers,” said Cathy Caldwell, from the Oregon offices of Bailey Nurseries. Bailey Nurseries is one of the largest nurseries in the US with locations in Washington, Oregon and Minnesota and more than $60 million in revenues.
Unfortunately for Newhouse, and for all growers, the threat continues. Without passing a Farm Bill that includes funding for the NCPN, work to provide clean plants will end. While the long-term goal is to make all Clean Plant Centers self-sustaining, pulling funding now would render work-to-date pointless.