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Research to address critical organic apple and pear challenges

The Organic Center (The Center) this week announced a project to prevent a potential catastrophe now looming over organic apple and pear production in the United States. The goal: to provide the organic farming community critically needed information on how to prevent a disease from decimating apple and pear orchards while maintaining rigorous organic standards.

Contact: Jessica Shade, Ph.D., The Organic Center, Phone 202-403-8517, 444 N. Capitol St. NW Washington, DC 20001

Washington, D.C. (July 22, 2013):  The Organic Center (The Center) this week announced a project to prevent a potential catastrophe now looming over organic apple and pear production in the United States. The goal: to provide the organic farming community critically needed information on how to prevent a disease from decimating apple and pear orchards while maintaining rigorous organic standards.

The issue at hand is fire blight, a bacterial tree disease. Fire blight is a serious problem for organic apples and pears. Exacerbating the situation is that U.S. organic farmers will no longer be allowed to use oxytetracycline, one of the key control agents to prevent this disease, as of October 2014.

Fire blight just doesn’t just destroy the fruit; it has the potential to kill the entire tree. To make matters worse, it is highly contagious among trees and orchards, so the potential for damage is enormous. Fire blight could have huge ramifications on the future organic apple and pear market, which is now estimated to be over $300 million at retail. Washington, which leads in production, currently has over 15,000 acres dedicated to organic apple and pear orchards.

Recent polls conducted by David Granatstein, Sustainable Agriculture Specialist at Washington State University, show that 70 to 90 percent of all organic apple and pear producers may switch to non-organic management 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,” said Granatstein.

To address the issue of non-antibiotic alternatives for fire blight control, The Organic Center is funding a project, in collaboration with Granatstein and Harold Ostenson, to research integrative antibiotic-free management strategies. The project will be published as a report written by farmers for farmers, reviewing methods for controlling fire blight holistically, and covering other pertinent issues. This will provide a critically needed bridge to cover the gap created  with the 2014 expiration of oxytetracycline.

“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,” said Dr. Jessica Shade, the Director of Science Programs for The Center.

Dr. Shade said the project has received tremendous support from the organic industry from such companies as Albert’s Organics, Better Life Organics, Bridges Produce, Caito Foods, Castellini Group of Companies, Columbia Valley Fruit, Crosset Co., Earl’s Organic Produce, Goodness Greeness, Indianapolis Fruit Co., Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers, Organically Grown Co., Pro-Organics, Sonoma Produce, Sun City Produce Co., Stemilt Growers, W.R. Vernon Produce Co, and Zirkle Fruit Co. The project is expected to be completed in time for the 2014 growing season.

To learn more or to offer assistance, contact Jessica Shade, or Phil Gruszka (Principal, Gruszka Consulting), 661-345-5457.

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