Research funding will continue to flow from California winegrape growers to a program aimed at finding a cure or treatment for Pierce's disease, the California Department of Food and Agriculture has announced.

Growers have approved a referendum on a program which funds research addressing the grapevine disease and the glassy-winged sharpshooter that spreads it. The "yes" vote means the farmers will continue to pay an annual assessment based on the value of their crop through March 2011, and a board of growers and winemakers will continue to advise CDFA Secretary A.G. Kawamura on the use of these funds for research and related activities to keep the threat of this disease at bay.

"When the glassy-winged sharpshooter was first detected in California just before the end of the millennium, the outlook was grim," said Kawamura. "Farmers, scientists and wine lovers alike were-at best-unsure of California's continuing status as a world-renowned winemaking region. It was a tense time in our vineyards, but our farmers did what farmers do-they rolled up their sleeves and went to work."

"Growers have worked tirelessly with us for years now to make the Pierce's Disease Control Program a success," said Kawamura. "This is a tremendous vote of confidence, but we are mindful that Pierce's disease and the sharpshooter are still a very real threat."

Governor Schwarzenegger signed SB 1650 in September 2004, directing CDFA to conduct the referendum. The legislation was authored by Senator Wes Chesbro, who represents the state's north coast wine region, to give growers the opportunity to vote on the future of the assessment, which had been scheduled to "sunset" in 2006 if the referendum did not receive growers' approval. The affirmative vote extends the program through March 2011.

"It is heartening to see the private and public sectors working together toward a solution to Pierce's disease," Sen. Chesbro said. "My bill has enabled growers to come together in support of this important project. Their willingness to participate financially in finding a solution is an indication of their firm resolve."

89 Pct. in favor

Of the 7,425 growers who were eligible to vote in the referendum, 4,076 (54.9 percent) voted. Of these, 3,658 (89.7 percent) voted in favor of continuing the assessment, representing $2,482,717 (90.1 percent) of the 2004 assessment paid by all voters.

During its first four years, the assessment has raised approximately $17.8 million. The assessment rate is set each year by the secretary of food and agriculture, acting on the recommendation of the Pierce's Disease and Glassy-winged Sharpshooter Board, and can vary from $1 to $3 per $1,000 of crop value. The rate for the 2005 harvest has been set at $2 per $1,000.

Pierce's disease kills grapevines by clogging their water-conducting systems. The disease has long been present in California, but was catapulted into prominence in 1999 when the non-native glassy-winged sharpshooter, which transmits the disease much more rapidly than its native cousins, was detected in California. Similar diseases are caused by related strains of the bacteria in almond, peach and citrus trees, oleander, and other plants. With assistance and cooperation from growers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and local jurisdictions, the state has mounted a successful effort to detect and suppress sharpshooter populations and conduct research seeking a cure or treatment for Pierce's disease. Funding for the statewide program from all sources (federal, state and local governments and the grower assessment) totals approximately $210 million since 1999.