Wine growers face new virus threat

Nematode transmits virus to vineyards

Growers of grapes like these on Snipes Mountain are urged to be on the lookout for signs of a new virus.

Photo by Ted Escobar
Growers of grapes like these on Snipes Mountain are urged to be on the lookout for signs of a new virus.

— Yakima Valley wine grape growers have just discovered a new challenge to their efforts, a virus detected recently in a Wapato vineyard.

The Yakima Valley is home to dozens of vineyards that produce not only jobs, but millions of dollars.

So when the owner of a vineyard in Wapato began to notice some of his grapevines just didn’t look right, he called Washington State University scientists to find out why.

According to Naidu Rayapati, a researcher at the irrigated agriculture research station at Prosser, Tobacco Ringspot virus can damage the health of a vine.

The microscopic dagger nematode spreads the virus.

“It can infect a variety of crops, including grapes, apples and cherries,” Rayapati said.

The virus was discovered in a Wapato vineyard after the owner stopped growing pears and planted grapevines.

“We are beginning to realize that a particular virus which may or may not cause serious problems in one crop, can cause serious problems in a totally

different crop,” Rayapati said.

The nematode is not new, Rayapati said. Only the virus. The signs of the virus are obvious, if you know what you’re looking for.

Look for stunted growth smaller clusters and even discoloration in red wine grapes.

“Over a period of time, the plants show declining symptoms, perhaps leading to death of the entire vine,” Dr. Rayapati said.

For now, the virus is contained in that block 4-5 acre block in Wapato, but the threat could be lurking in the ground.

“We’re still monitoring to see if there are others,” Rayapati said.

Trouble can start with one infected plant in a new block. The nematode dagger itself can become a problem because it feeds on the roots of plants.

“We need to have vigilance,” Rayapati said. “We need to have awareness in terms of the potential of this particular problem spreading to other regions.”

Rayapati said any grower with suspicions should call him at 509-786-2226.

Growers should test for soil-borne viruses before planting any crops, he said.


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