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State, federal budget cuts could jeopardize grape research

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TWC News: State, federal budget cuts could jeopardize grape research
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One bright spot in the Texas economy is the grape and wine industry. It's grown to have more than $1 billion in statewide economic impact every year.

However, state and federal budget cuts threaten to derail the industry’s growth.

Paul Bonarrigo is a seventh generation grape grower. His family has vineyards all over the state and business is booming.

When his family came to Texas, they owned one of only three vineyards in the whole state, but now there's more than 250. The Texas Hill Country is now the number two wine tourist destination in America.

“The amazing thing about Texas is just there's such a wide variety of soil and climate that you can pretty much plant any variety here," Bonarrigo said. “The consumer is starting to buy a lot more Texas wine, so the demand is there and it's a really exciting time for Texas wineries, that's for sure."

Grape growers have a mortal enemy--an infection called Pierce's Disease that reduces fruit production and ultimately kills the vines.

"If they were ever able to fix that issue, it'd be amazing,” Bonarrigo said. “The ability for Texas to grow grapes would expand exponentially."

Millions have been spent to defeat the disease nationwide. Texas opened a research facility in 2007, which has come close to finding a cure.

"Our native grapevines and our native species are tolerant -- they don't die from this pathogen,” Jim Kamas with Texas Agrilife Extension Service said. “But the introduced varieties are susceptible, so we're trying to find ways to break that linkage."

Federal funding for the lab has been cut to zero, and if no money is found, this center will close March 31.

"If our funding does not get renewed, this facility, we'll just have to walk away from it," Kamas said.

Texas grape growers and wine makers hope they can still find the money to keep the research facility going.

They're working closely with Texas A&M and California grape growers to find an alternative source of funding.

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