By Maegan Beatty
On May 18, the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) hosted a Grape Field Day at the Plant Science Research and Education Unit (PSREU) in Citra. There were about 50 farmers, researchers and students present at the event and a variety of speakers covering topics relating to the grape and winery industry.
Participants engaged in a hands-on workshop where they traveled to the grape vineyards and got to learn more about Pierce’s disease and its impact on the grape industry. They also got to inject the grapevines themselves with a pressurized injection device that is typically filled with bactericides to prevent and treat Pierce’s disease.
PIERCE DISEASE MANAGEMENT
Jean Rodrieguez is a research scientist at A&P Inphatec, LLC. The company targets Pierce’s disease in grapes by using bactericides through injection. The official name for this injection is called XylPhi-PD.
Pierce’s disease causes harm to the grapevines by clogging their xylem. This makes it impossible for the crop to survive and results in a huge loss for grape farmers. The key to prevention of Pierce’s disease is to search for early symptoms.
“Early symptoms of Pierce’s disease typically mimic water stress,” Rodrieguez said.
Researchers have attempted to treat the disease by using both physical and vector control. Some physical control methods include vineyard inspection and testing, roguing diseased vines and replanting in less susceptible areas. Vector control methods include insecticide treatments, inspecting and certifying bulk grape shipments and consistent monitoring.
While these methods can be very beneficial, none of them have been able to completely prevent or cure Pierce’s disease in grapevines. Due to this, Rodrieguez and other researchers began testing bactericides. Another name for the bactericide is phage. Phages are bacteria specific and cause no harm to plants or people. Because phages are so particular, they act as a perfect tool to use against Pierce’s disease.
“We create a cocktail of viral bacteriophages and they enter, attack and kill Xylella Fastidiosa bacteria, which is the cause of PD (Pierce’s disease),” Rodrieguez said.
While grapevine injection was a majority of the day, participants also received information regarding certified wineries, agritourism and economic values of grapes. Marketing the grape industry is just as important as learning how to produce the crop. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has many resources available to farmers who are curious about marketing techniques within the industry and how to become a certified winery.