Clean Plant Availability Shortage Threatens Washington Vineyards

Industry sees shortage as critical.

Published on: Sep 4, 2013

"It's the single highest threat to sustainable wine production facing our industry," says Todd Newhouse, Upland Vineyards owner near Outlook, Wash.

The threat he talks about is the lack of available disease- clean plants for vineyards.

Virus that plants carry can reduce the life of a vineyard by half, he claims.

Most growers know that plant material selection is pivotal to development of their vineyards since it is one of the most economically sensitive decisions made for the long term. But getting clean plants is a challenge today, as nurseries that propagate the material have not been able to supply certified virus-free grapevines to keep up with planting expansions in the Pacific Northwest.

Grapes and other crops would face a virus crisis if the current national screening program for plant materials is not funded with a new Farm Bill.
Grapes and other crops would face a virus crisis if the current national screening program for plant materials is not funded with a new Farm Bill.

The Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers put together a comprehensive plan in 2001 that helps ensure that planting material entering the state   or being sold in the state would be certified virus free.

But unless a Farm Bill is passed to assure funding for the National Clean Plant Network, work checking for viruses in grapestocks would be ended, says Cathy Caldwell of Bailey Nurseries in Oregon.

With its demise, a plan to make Clean Plant Centers self-sustaining would become pointless, she adds.

Congress passed the NCPN in 2008 in the Farm Bill, creating a program whereby starter plants would be diagnosed through a national partnership focused on elimination of disease. A $5 million appropriation under the bill supports 23 programs  at 19 Clean Plant Centers in 15 states for grapes, fruit trees, citrus, berries and hops.

All of these industries would be threatened if the program ended.

"Without the Clean Plant Centers, we would not be able to provide a clean grape vine to our customers," says Caldwell.

NCPN has been successful, notes Scharlau, because it is driven by stakeholders in the individual industries it serves.

"It is truly a collaborative public/private partnership," she says of the system which incorporates university researchers, nursery representatives and wine industry members on its board.