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Lodi Winegrape Commission Awarded $400,000+ Grant to Study Canine Detection of Mealybugs and Leafroll Virus in Vineyards


LODI, Calif., June 8, 2023 – The Lodi Winegrape Commission was awarded a $428,111 Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) research grant to determine whether the robust olfactory senses of canines can detect vine mealybugs and leafroll virus in nurseries and commercial vineyards. The project, which officially starts on July 1, combines the unique expertise of canine detection professionals, University of California scientists, and the Lodi Winegrape Commission. Dr. Stephanie Bolton, Grower Research & Education/LODI RULES Sustainable Winegrowing Director for the Commission, will lead the project and serve as the principal investigator.

Explaining how exciting this project is for the world of wine, Dr. Bolton says, “Any threat to the viability of the California winegrape industry – valued at $57.6 billion in annual economic activity according to the California Association of Winegrape Growers – threatens our state’s economy. Our canine detection project aligns well with our efforts to farm sustainably and practice prevention, the core principles of integrated pest management. Dogs are a farmer’s best friend, so this is a fun approach to one of our biggest challenges.”

Leafroll virus is the world’s most destructive grapevine virus. The virus is vectored by the invasive vine mealybug that is spreading the virus at an alarming rate through nursery material, within vineyards, between neighboring vineyards, and across entire regions. Leafroll infections reduce yield and quality of winegrapes, decrease a vineyard’s lifespan, contribute to sudden vine collapse, and make land less suitable for future plantings. Early detection of mealybugs and viruses, as is possible with canines, is critical to reducing pesticide use and fostering long-term sustainability of vineyards. 

The project team includes Dr. Neil McRoberts (University of California, Davis), whose close working relationship with now-retired USDA scientist Dr. Tim Gottwald propelled the original project idea. Dr. Gottwald’s research re-introduced the ancient technique of using dogs to detect pests and diseases in agriculture. The noses of canines are far more powerful than our most expensive scientific equipment, and they can detect pathogens in real-time without the need to sample and destroy plant tissue. This in-field, real-time, large-scale detection of mealybugs and leafroll virus could be a game changer in California’s fight to keep nurseries and vineyards healthy and free from devastating disease.  

While Dr. McRoberts serves as the epidemiologist, Ms. Lisa Finke and her staff at Canine Detection Services (Fresno, CA) will conduct proof-of-concept trials to determine if dogs can be trained to detect vine mealybugs and leafroll virus in a vineyard setting. Ms. Finke has extensive experience using canines for bed bug and Asian citrus psyllid detection. The final team member, Dr. Maher Al Rwahnih (Director of Foundation Plant Services), will provide expert technical assistance and virus samples for training.

The Lodi Winegrape Commission has been actively studying the California grapevine virus situation since 2002, and this current project builds upon that work. Dr. Bolton has led two collaborative research teams studying mealybugs and viruses which have been instrumental in gathering information, creating educational materials, connecting relevant sectors, and offering real-world, practical outreach for winegrowers across the globe. Funding from the American Vineyard Foundation and the CDFA PD/GWSS Board allowed the Commission to produce a 138-page book titled What Every Winegrower Should Know: Viruses.  

Stuart Spencer, Executive Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission adds, “We are thankful to the Department of Pesticide Regulation for funding this innovative project that has the potential to benefit the entire California wine and grape industry. The Lodi winegrowing community is proud to be at the forefront of cutting-edge, industry-led research, innovation, and extension.”

If successful, canine detection could apply to more pests and diseases in grapes and other crops, and provide a valuable, sustainable pest prevention tool for farmers in California and beyond.

About the Lodi Winegrape Commission 

Established in 1991, the Lodi Winegrape Commission represents the common interests of Lodi winegrowers with programs in marketing, education, research, and sustainable viticulture. The Commission collectively and effectively promotes Lodi’s vibrant, multi-generational farming community and California’s most dynamic wine region. Comprised of nine commissioners and nine alternates, the board of directors provides direction and input on behalf of the region’s 750 winegrowers. For more information about the Lodi Winegrape Commission, visit lodigrowers.com. For information on the Lodi appellation, visit lodiwine.com.



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