Tackling phylloxera

What is phylloxera?

Grape phylloxera (Daktulsphaira vitifoliae) is the number one threat to grapevines in Australia. European (Vitis vinifera) grapevines, which comprise the vast majority of Australian vineyards, have very little tolerance to phylloxera, which represents a major threat to our wine grape growing  industry.

There have been several hundred genetic strains of phylloxera documented worldwide, with Australia identifying 83 endemic strains. These strains come from genetically different ancestry, are of different virulence and are potentially suited to slightly different environmental conditions.

Phylloxera causes: considerable losses in both quality and yield of produce, the magnitude of which is related to:

  • vine variety
  • phylloxera strain
  • soil moisture
  • seasonal temperatures.

For more information on Victoria’s phylloxera management policy see:

Lifecycle

The phylloxera lifecycle involves egg, nymph and adult stages. Adult phylloxera are 1mm long and yellow to brown in colour.

Phylloxera can survive for up to eight days in warm weather and considerably longer in cooler conditions without feeding on grapevines. They have poor tolerance for heat and a preference for high humidity. Adults can lay around 200 eggs per cycle and are capable of several breeding cycles per season, depending on the virulence of the phylloxera strain, nutrition and environmental conditions. Populations peak between November and March.

Feeding

The roots of European grapevine are extremely susceptible to attack by phylloxera strains present in Australia. Phylloxera feed by puncturing the root surface, causing the vine to form galls or nodosities on root hairs and swellings (tuberosities) on older roots. On the root hairs, these galls have a characteristic hook-shaped form and this damage stops the growth of the feeder roots, ultimately killing the vine.

Phylloxera can cause death of the European grapevine, Vitis vinifera, within 5 — 6 years on average, dependent on which endemic strain is present.

Signs of phylloxera

Early signs of a phylloxera infestation include slow and stunted shoot growth and early yellowing of leaves as they lose function. Excessive weed growth under the vine is common. Leaf yellowing will normally be seen in two to three neighbouring vines — usually, but not always, within the same row. In the mid stages of infestation, an infested vineyard area looks like an ‘oil spot’ spreading pattern as the phylloxera move from vine to adjacent vine and from row to row, spreading out from the roots of the vine where it was first introduced.

Smaller satellite spots also occur when phylloxera has been accidentally moved on clothing, footwear or vineyard machinery.

How does phylloxera spread?

Movement of phylloxera is most often attributed to crawlers. These are easily picked up by clothing, footwear, equipment and vehicles (including harvesters), or in soil and vine material (leaves and shoots), and spread to other vineyards and regions.

Crawlers can also naturally spread from vine to vine by crawling along the soil surface, in the canopy, or crawling below the surface.

They may also be carried by wind with an estimated spread of 25 metres. Natural spread within a vineyard has been estimated at between 100 — 200 metres a year. Eggs and wingless adults can also be spread in soil, in leaves with leaf galls and on planting material (cuttings, rootlings, potted vines).

Other movement vectors include grapes and grape products (unfiltered juice, grape marc).

Replanting

Plant with American Vitis rootstocks. Phylloxera strain-rootstock interaction research has shown that other than own rooted Vitis Vinifera which is susceptible to all endemic phylloxera strains, many rootstocks are tolerant to phylloxera where the phylloxera can still feed and reproduce on the roots but in lower numbers than on own roots and therefore the vine is not debilitated. Only some rootstocks convey true resistance where the phylloxera cannot develop beyond the first instar to the adult and cannot therefore lay eggs. The level of the resistance conferred by a particular rootstock is dependent on the strain(s) of phylloxera feeding on the roots.

Depending on the phylloxera strain, leaf galls may occur on the leaves of American Vitis rootstocks. Grapevines grafted to phylloxera tolerant rootstocks or nursery plantings may show signs of phylloxera insects on the roots and damage in the form of nodosities, however, visual symptoms in the canopy do not occur, which makes detection difficult.

It’s important to know which phylloxera strain has been found on your property, in your region or in a region close to you. This enables an appropriate rootstock selection to be undertaken when planting, based on knowledge of phylloxera strain-rootstock interactions. Identifying phylloxera down to the strain level can also help link new infestations to their source.

However, grafted vines can sustain populations of phylloxera, which can spread to ungrafted vines.

Your notification responsibilities

Phylloxera is declared as a notifiable pest under the Plant Biosecurity Act 2010.

If you think you have phylloxera, you must report any suspected detections to Agriculture Victoria within 7 days by:

The requirement for mandatory reporting includes a person who:

  • owns or occupies the land
  • owns or possesses the material ( vine rootlings)
  • deals with the land or material as a consultant or contractor engaged by the owner/occupier or manager.

European (Vitis vinifera) grapevines, which comprise the vast majority of Australian vineyards, have very little tolerance to phylloxera, which represents a major threat to the industry.

Tackling Phylloxera Program

Tackling phylloxera logo.

The Victorian Wine Strategy 2017— 2021 is a five-year plan to support the wine industry improve its long-term performance and prosperity. The strategy strives to deliver a state wine industry that is more profitable, coordinated, skilled and knowledgeable.

The strategy is structured around four key platforms, which address:

  • adaptation to business and production challenges
  • increasing tourist numbers and expenditure in Victorian wine regions
  • developing profitable and sustainable export markets
  • increasing industry coordination.

The four platforms are interlinked and designed to position the industry for future success.

Investment was received from the Agriculture Infrastructure and Jobs Fund (AIJF) — Program Stream to meet the business and production challenges identified in the strategy.

AIJF is the Victorian Government's commitment to farmers and agribusinesses to strengthen the performance and resilience of the agriculture sector. It is a key component of the Government's strategic direction to drive economic growth, create jobs and boost exports.

$1.8 million has been provided via the AIJF to fund the Tackling Phylloxera Program — a state wide project that aims to address the biosecurity challenges posed by phylloxera, improve productivity and allow for more efficient supply chains.

Six projects have been funded by the investment:

  1. To develop and adopt innovative, science-based protocols and procedures to enable rapid and accurate phylloxera diagnostics.
  2. To develop a strategic long-term plan for phylloxera management in Victoria.
  3. To explore the barriers to grower, and associated supply chain participants’ adoption of best practice phylloxera management.
  4. To undertake a state-wide awareness program aimed at improving business adoption of on-farm biosecurity best practice measures.
  5. To undertake a review of the alignment of the Victorian Viticulture Biosecurity Committee with industry expectations and ensure that these closely align to the core objectives the Wine Ministerial Advisory Committee (WineMAC).
  6. To undertake vineyard inspections to enable gazettal of the Mornington Peninsula region as a Phylloxera Exclusion Zone (PEZ) and have the region recognised as such by industry and trading partners. The third and final year of the rezoning project is now underway.

Tackling Phylloxera Program videos

The Tackling Phylloxera Program is a government initiative that takes a holistic view of the effects of phylloxera on industry and therefore aims to develop a long-term plan for mitigating the spread of phylloxera.

(bright acoustic-guitar music)
- [Narrator]
In 2015 the Victorian wine industry contributed an estimated 7.6 billion dollars to the Victorian economy.

The industry generates an estimated 13,000 direct jobs, including tourism, and creates a total flow-on effect in the vicinity of 33,000 jobs;
the majority of these are located in regional areas.

A prominent issue and industry priority is ongoing management of the biosecurity challenge posed by phylloxera, which is the number-one threat to grapevines in Australia.

The Victorian government acknowledges the impact and potential risks to industry posed by the spread of phylloxera, particularly into new grape-growing areas.

Implementing enhanced on-farm biosecurity measures to contain and prevent the further spread of phylloxera is now critical.

- The tactical influx programme will deliver outcomes beyond just managing phylloxera. It goes to the heart of biosecurity management, and that's on-farm biosecurity management.

- [Narrator] One million dollars will be spent over three years, through six individual projects to reduce phylloxera spread in Victoria and improve market access through enhanced on-farm biosecurity measures that will contain and prevent further spread
of phylloxera to other regions.

One of these projects include vineyard inspections in the Mornington Peninsula that had the region recognised as a phylloxera exclusion zone by industry and trading partners.

- The Mornington Peninsula has been, or is, currently zoned as a PRZ, a risk zone. We're hoping to be rezoned as a PEZ, the exclusion zone. So, to that end, starting a survey of all the vineyards on the peninsula to determine if we are free of the phylloxera louse, and we're very optimistic that we will be found to be free of phylloxera.

And then we can really concentrate on our own protocols at the farm gate and improving those so that we remain phylloxera-free.

- As we've gone through the process of understanding the exact number of vineyards on the peninsula and contacting every grower and member of the association, we've had nothing but positive feedback about the reception to rezoning.

I think that's, really, just because it's a quality region that's focused on quality, and this is a real benchmarking in the region that is very important, and we've made that very clear in the association, and it's great that all the growers have taken that onboard.

So, we see the response from growers as very positive, not just generally, but on the whole.

- It's very important for our region to have the collaboration with Agriculture Victoria because we're a small region and we've got a very active Vigneron's Association but not a huge amount of funding to expand on some of the projects that we do.

So, for Agriculture Victoria to support us with funding a project like this, it is the only way it can really happen.

- The rezoning process, in itself, additionally for each grower, the increased understanding of phylloxera empowers them within their own vineyard to treat their vineyard as a zone within the exclusion zone where, from their own farm gate, they can protect themselves against phylloxera.

The process of communication, the process of understanding about phylloxera that this rezoning will bring will give much power to each grower to look after their place in a much more bio-secure way.

Page last updated: 16 Dec 2020