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Hearing Testimony

Statement of William (Bill) J. Lyons, Jr.
Secretary, California Department of Food and Agriculture
before the Livestock and Horticulture Subcommittee
House Agriculture Committee
Napa, California
February 22, 2000

I. Introduction

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, welcome to California and to the heart of California's wine country. Thank you for holding this important hearing. With me today is Bob Wynn, Division Director of CDFA's Plant Health and Pest Prevention Services, to discuss Pierce's disease (PD), the glassy-winged sharpshooter (GWSS), and to present future efforts to protect California agriculture from this threat.

Let me begin by stating that we in California recognize the threat that the glassy-winged sharpshooter and Pierce's disease pose to agriculture in this state. This is not a problem limited to Temecula, nor is it confined to the grape industry. We have attempted to address the problem in a coordinated effort where information is shared and where responsibilities are clearly defined.

II. Pierce's Disease and Glassy-Winged Sharpshooter

The deadly plant bacterium Xylella fastidiosa causes Pierce's disease in grapes, and it causes corresponding diseases in oleander, almonds, tree fruits, ornamentals, and alfalfa. With some genetic changes, it can also manifest itself as citrus X disease, a disease that has devastated the citrus industry in Brazil. For all of these diseases, no cure exists; once a plant contracts the disease, it will die or become unproductive.

The California grape industry has long coped with Pierce's disease. In the 1880's, the disease destroyed 40,000 acres of grapes around Anaheim. Currently, in the Napa/Sonoma region, the blue-green sharpshooter spreads the disease. In the wine industry's most recent survey, the cost of Pierce's disease has reached the $33 million mark for Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino Counties.

A new vector transforms this century-old problem into a multi-billion-dollar threat to California's agriculture. The glassy-winged sharpshooter was detected in California in the early 1990's from the southeastern United States, and most likely arrived on plants transported from an infested area. This insect is known to feed on hundreds of species of plants, using its needle-like mouth to tap into the water-conducting tissues of a plant. In addition to its mobility and its varied food sources, it is such a dangerous vector because of its sheer thirst: equal to, in relative terms, a 150-pound human drinking 4,300 gallons of water a day.

When the glassy-winged sharpshooter taps into an infected plant, it acquires the bacterium. Thereafter, whenever it feeds, the glassy-winged sharpshooter transmits the bacterium, which plugs a plant's xylem. While Xylella fastidiosa does not affect all plants, the plants not showing symptoms may still serve as a reservoir of the bacteria infecting other sharpshooters that will then further transmit the disease. Citrus is an excellent overwintering site, as well as a host for egg laying. Where citrus is grown close to susceptible crops, such as grapes and almonds, the population of sharpshooters carrying Pierce's disease becomes a major problem.

As you know, the wine growing area of Temecula in Riverside County has high levels of the glassy-winged sharpshooter and Pierce's disease. First detected in 1997, last year saw only a relative few localized areas of Pierce's disease. By 1999, 30 percent of the grape vineyards in Temecula are stricken with Pierce's disease due to glassy-winged sharpshooter feeding and inoculation.

The current damage from which Temecula suffers may only be an early warning sign of things to come. Glassy-winged sharpshooter has been found in eight southern California counties. A single glassy-winged sharpshooter was trapped in Lodi (San Joaquin County) in 1999 with no other glassy-winged sharpshooter found in subsequent surveys. The glassy-winged sharpshooter will spread northward naturally and can hitchhike on vehicles. Nursery stock from infested areas in California may provide a ready pathway to move this pest throughout the state, unless suitable action can be taken to ensure that commercial plants are pest-free.

III. Actions Taken to Combat the Disease and Pest

To summarize, we have a new mobile insect vector with a variety of food sources, spreading a disease that is deadly to California's grape industry, as well as other major agricultural crops.

Combating this pest and disease defies a simple solution and demands a multi-pronged approach, including controlling glassy-winged sharpshooter, slowing the artificial movement of the pest, and researching both the disease and the pest. In a very short time, the various parties - CDFA, USDA, county agricultural commissioners, the University of California, and the agricultural industry - have worked together to develop a strategy to fight this problem.

Just six months ago - August of 1999 -- the Riverside County Board of Supervisors declared a local emergency, and both the Board and the City of Temecula allocated $125,000 each to support research efforts to combat the glassy-winged sharpshooter and its spreading of Pierce's disease. To help develop long-term strategies and identify additional funding for research, I adopted an action plan and appointed a task force composed of industry representatives, county agricultural commissioners, university researchers, and state and federal agriculture officials. The purpose of this task force was to ensure a coordinated response. In November of 1999, the task force delivered its final report, which listed research priorities in 11 areas.

In September, I wrote to Congressional appropriators requesting $4 million for research into control and eradication of glassy-winged sharpshooter and Pierce's disease. This was not part of the final package, but the appropriations bill did encourage USDA to assist California. On November 4, 1999, we requested $360,000 from the APHIS contingency account to set up a pilot program that will test the effectiveness of winter treatments on citrus to reduce sharpshooter populations in Temecula. Four days later, at a meeting sponsored by Representatives Calvert and Bono between growers and officials of USDA and CDFA, the USDA announced that it would fund this effort. Treatments are scheduled to begin towards the end of February 2000. The University of California at Riverside will conduct extensive monitoring to evaluate the effectiveness of the program.

CDFA has marshaled its resources for these efforts since we were first notified of the situation in Temecula. CDFA has spent over $120,000 and hundreds of hours of staff time to meet with stakeholders, coordinate the existing activities, and develop protocols for regulatory action and treatment. In addition, Governor Davis has committed up to $200,000 from the CDFA budget to find and release natural enemies for the sharpshooter. Concerned about spreading the sharpshooter through nursery stock, I met with the leaders of the nursery industry, who have adopted a voluntary program that will minimize the spread of the sharpshooter through nursery stock. Currently, we are planning a more intensive survey to determine how far the sharpshooter has spread.

On October 10, 1999, Governor Davis signed legislation to allocate $2.25 million (matched by $750,000 in industry money) for competitive grants for research of Pierce's disease. This legislation created a Pierce's Disease Advisory Task Force that takes the place of the earlier group. At its first meeting last month, I charged the group with providing to me by March 1, 2000, its recommendations for the research grants.

At the same time, the University of California (UC) has established its own task force to coordinate research efforts, and we have worked closely with UC in the development of research priorities. Currently, research is underway to establish a biological control program to limit sharpshooter numbers. Other UC scientists are looking into better disease detection methods and the actions of the bacteria itself with the hope of ultimately curing plants with the equivalent of chemotherapy. In addition, UC is working on developing Xylella-resistant varieties of wine grapes.

IV. Additional Federal Assistance

Because of the enormity of the threat, I will again be asking Congress to appropriate money to fight the glassy-winged sharpshooter and Pierce's disease. Reflecting the battle itself, this money must go to slow the spread of glassy-winged sharpshooter, to detect the current range of the pest in the state, and to develop management programs in infested areas. An additional $7.14 million for the APHIS budget earmarked to fight this disease will allow my department, working with its federal, county, university and industry counterparts, to continue the immediate fight against the spread of this disease.

This $7.14 million will allow us, working with county agricultural commissioners, to begin a statewide management program that will have four primary elements:

1) inspection of nursery stock moving from infested counties and from other states;

2) statewide survey to determine the spread of the glassy-winged sharpshooter;

3) establishment of multi-county pest management areas to begin treatment in infested areas or to develop contingency plans to prepare for infestation; and

4) an aggressive public outreach program to help slow the spread of the pest.

We estimate that the eight counties that are currently infested will need $250,000 each to begin effective treatment, monitoring and inspection programs. Each of the remaining 36 counties that are vulnerable to this pest and disease should be allotted $50,000 each for survey, and outreach, as well as to develop rapid response capability, should the sharpshooter be detected. The state's role will be to coordinate all program elements, prepare protocols for survey and nursery inspection, train field staff, develop a biological control program, provide computerized mapping of survey results, standardize the outreach program and provide pest identification services, as well as pest risk analysis.

At the same time, federal dollars are needed to step up research efforts into Pierce's disease, and various control methods. I recommend that, in addition to the $7.14 million for the above-referenced eradication and control efforts, Congress fund research targeted at Pierce's disease and the glassy-winged sharpshooter.

Recently, Governor Davis met with California members of the House Appropriations Committee to discuss priorities for the next federal budget, including federal assistance to fight Pierce's disease. Indeed, this is such an imminent threat that if Congress considers a supplemental appropriations bill this spring, emergency spending would speed efforts to halt the spread of this disease. I look forward to working with you and your colleagues on the Appropriations Committee.

Crop insurance for the devastating effects of Pierce's disease would be helpful to growers in areas free of the glassy-winged sharpshooter. The ability to insure their vineyards against excessive loss from the disease would help lessen the financial impacts. As Congress considers reform to the crop insurance system, I ask that you look to insure a more crops against a wider variety of losses, including losses from pests and even from pest quarantines.

V. Conclusion

The glassy-winged sharpshooter and Pierce's disease threaten the California grape and wine industry along with many other crops. Because of this threat, we have mobilized and are working with all who have a stake in this fight.

It is important to note that the glassy-winged sharpshooter is not native to California. It came to California through interstate movement of plant materials. As we discuss additional resources for fighting Pierce's disease, we should also be looking at additional resources to stop all exotic pests and diseases that may threaten California's agriculture. Governor Davis' budget proposes an additional $4.3 million to implement a comprehensive strategy to reduce the growing threat to California from invasive pests. As Congress debates how best to help producers, I strongly encourage you to continue to work to ensure that the federal government sufficiently protects American agriculture from pests and diseases. I thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your recent hearing on invasive species and for this hearing as well.

This concludes my statement. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.