Nearly $14 million has been earmarked to fight Pierce's disease -- a fatal vine malady that potentially threatens vineyards around the United States -- in the 2002 agriculture appropriations bill recently signed by President George W. Bush.
The bill marks the United States government's largest commitment yet to the grape industry and its battle against Pierce's disease, according to Bill Nelson, vice president for government affairs for the American Vintners Association.
"This is the best year we've ever had," Nelson said. "The federal government is saying that it believes that viticulture is extremely important to this country."
About $8.5 of the appropriation for Pierce's disease is targeted at containing and controlling further spread of the disease. Another $5 million will go toward research.
The federal government, the California state government and wine industry sources have already contributed nearly $40 million to cure Pierce's disease and contain the glassy-winged sharpshooter, the most virulent pest that spreads it.
The new agriculture budget also boosts spending for other viticultural research programs in California, New York and the Pacific Northwest.
While AVA president Simon Siegl is pleased that the U.S. government has increased funding for the wine and grape industries, he argued that the amount still isn't enough. "Grapes used for wine, raisins and fresh fruit are the sixth largest crop by value in the U.S.," he said. "It is a fraction of what is spent on research by our international competitors, or on support of the larger, 'program' crops in the U.S."