Fire blight challenge draws research effort

07/31/2013 11:31:00 AM
Tom Karst

The Organic Center, a Washington, D.C.-based research and education organization, is funding a project to research antibiotic-free fire blight management strategies for organic production of apples and pears.

“This project will play a vital role in ensuring that apple and pear growers are able to continue their organic operations without losing trees to fire blight,” Jessica Shade, the director of science programs for the center, said in a news release.

Fire blight presents a significant threat to $300 million (retail value) organic apple and pear production, and the release said growers are concerned they will no longer be allowed to use oxytetracycline to prevent the disease as of October 2014.

Washington, which leads the U.S. in organic apple and pear production, has more than 15,000 acres in organic orchards, according to the release. According to grower surveys conducted by David Granatstein, sustainable agriculture specialist at Washington State University, between 70% to 90% of organic and pear producers may switch to non-organic growing methods if an alternative control is not available by the time oxytetracycline use expires.

“Based on Washington State surveys, many organic growers do not feel that there are suitable replacements to antibiotics yet, and are thus considering reducing their organic apple or pear production due to the risk that fire blight poses,” Granatstein said in the release.

The Organic Center is funding a project in collaboration with Granatstein and Harold Ostenson to research integrative antibiotic-free management strategies, according to the release.

The project will help growers cope with the challenge presented by the 2014 expiration of oxytetracycline. Shade said the project has been supported by multiple organic produce marketers in the industry. For more information, contact Jessica Shade, or Phil Gruszka at 661-345-5457.



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