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Grape’s three-legged stool - water, Pierce’s disease, U.S. dollar

Grape’s three-legged stool - water, Pierce’s disease, U.S. dollar

Agricultural leaders discuss the impacts of short water, sustaining the Pierce’s Disease-GWSS program, and the strengthening U.S. dollar on the California grape industry.

The need for partnerships to meet water needs as California moves into the fourth year of a drought, the June 10 deadline for voting to sustain support for the fight against Pierce’s disease, and the strengthening of the U.S. dollar and its impact on wine exports and imports were among topics discussed at a workshop in Parlier, Calif.

The program was presented by the San Joaquin Valley Winegrowers Association and the California Association of Winegrape Growers.

Shaping the state’s water policy as it relates to storage and groundwater use is certain to be linked to “the environmental justice community,” said Sarge Green, water management specialist at the California Water Institute at Fresno State University.

“They have a lot of juice.”

Green said partnerships with rural communities on clean drinking water needs could help further efforts to arrive at more storage and the conveyance of water for agricultural needs.


David Orth, general manager of the Kings River Conservation District and a member of the California Water Commission, also said such alliances are likely needed to show the required “public benefit” of any storage project, along with the ecological benefits to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Among proposed storage projects are construction of a dam at Temperance Flat upstream from Millerton Lake and Sites Reservoir located north of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Green said backers of a Temperance Flat project should seek to show that “having that bucket and connecting it and getting water into the ground” is important.

Furrow benefits

In response to a question of about flood irrigation, which has given way in large measure to drip irrigation in the interest of water conservation, the two men talked of the role flooding plays in recharging the water supply.

“Furrow irrigation is the best form of recharge we have when water is available,” Orth said. “A question is how to create incentive for a dual system, when water is there, to use flood rather than drip.”

He said Don Cameron, general manager of Terra Nova Management Co. in Helm, has taken part in a flood water utilization project in which water was diverted from the Kings River in 2011, the most recent wet year in the state, to flood vineyards with dormant vines.

Water was also collected at the Helm ranch in what amounts to mini flood basins, within contoured mounds like those in rice fields, then allowed to seep into the ground before planting tomatoes.

Orth conceded such a system is very dependent on soil type. In the case of Terra Nova, sandy soils were a key.

Green said those who are not within a groundwater plan agency are most in need of learning about how the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act could impact them. He said they can get information from consultants which can include lawyers and pest control and certified crop control advisors.

If the groundwater user does not have a local agency to join, they can ask the county to step up for that role. If counties don’t come forward to cover the users, Green said, the state can step in.

Continued Pierce's Disease control

Participants in the educational tailgate meeting in Parlier also heard from Ken Freeze, outreach and education coordinator for the state’s Pierce’s Disease/Glassy Winged Sharpshooter Board.

Freeze explained that the deadline to vote on whether to renew an assessment on wine grape growers to reauthorize the Pierce’s Disease Program was originally May10 but had been extended to June 10. A 40 percent participation level is required.

Freeze added that growers in the Fresno area had not voted in large numbers for or against the renewal. Two previous referenda have passed.

In three of the past four years, grower assessments have amounted to 75 cents for every $1,000 in grapes sold. They have gone steadily downward from the $3 assessment that was initially set in 2001.

Freeze opened his presentation with mention of a headline from the Wine Spectator that read “Say Goodbye to California Wines” and a story that talked of devastation caused by the spread of disease by the glassy-winged sharpshooter in Temecula.

In 13 years, he said, nearly $46 million has been spent through the referendum as researchers have conducted trials on grape vines resistant to the disease and on a strain of Xyllela fastidiosa bacteria as an inoculant which does not result in spreading Pierce’s disease.

Money raised from the assessment has funded research looking at transgenic strategies to foster Pierce’s resistance in various ways.

Designated pests

The program has also assisted in combating the European grapevine moth, and it has named the brown marmorated stink bug, red blotch and vine mealybug as “designated pests.” Its detection and interdiction efforts have ridded the state of many glassy-winged sharpshooter infestations.

Members of the University of California, Davis Agricultural Issues Center discussed the impact of a strong dollar on California wine sales and imports.

Jim Lapsley and Georgi Gabrielyan said a strong dollar clearly can have the effects of making imports into the U.S. relatively cheap, making U.S. exports relatively more expensive, and causing U.S. wine exports to become expensive relative to wine from other source countries.

Yet there is no evidence that exchange rates dominate the bulk wine trade, Gabrielyan said. Yields, demand, and policy are other influences, the two men said.

Lapsley pointed out that a shortfall of wine grapes produced in California in 2010 and 2011 had some play in driving up imports into the United States in 2012. Record crops in 2012 and 2014 reduced the need for imports.

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