July 30, 2014 12:24 pm

Fire blight threatens apple crops in Annapolis Valley

HALIFAX – Berwick is known as the apple capital of Nova Scotia, but a recent problem is starting to threaten the region’s crops.

Fire blight, a bacterial disease that affects apple and pear trees, has been in Nova Scotia for about 50 years, but never on its current scale.

“This is easily the worst outbreak we’ve ever had,” said Larry Lutz, an apple grower and tree fruit specialist. “Nova Scotia has traditionally been relatively free of the problem.

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“There’s one or two orchards every year that saw some symptoms and it’s quite easily controlled. However, this year what we have is an outbreak that’s spread to almost every orchard in the valley.”

Unlike most viruses that damage fruit, fire blight has the ability to kill the tree itself. The only way to stop the spread is to cut off the affected part — or cut down the entire tree.

The virus is already being called a huge economic loss for the valley.

“This spring we planted 1,000 new trees and we had to take out 200 of them,” said apple grower Rene Penner. “When it hits young trees, it hits them really hard.”

Some apple growers are already out tens of thousands of dollars.

A growing concern is that the disease will not only affect this year’s crops, but future harvests.

“The bacteria will be with us for a long time,” Penner said. “We’re going to take some extreme measures this spring with chemicals and we’ll be watching it really close.

“You can’t just reorder trees and plant them. It takes a while.”

Since fire blight can also affect backyard trees, experts are asking homeowners to check their own apple trees for signs of the disease.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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