Organic apple and pear growers remain concerned about progress that’s being made on treatments to replace the use of oxytetracycline for controlling fire blight in orchards.
“Fire blight is a very serious disease that kills entire orchards,” said Addie Pobst, coordinator of imports, sustainability, organic integrity and food safety for Viva Tierra Organic Inc., Sedro-Woolley, Wash.
Need for alternatives
The Organic Center, Washington D.C., published results from a poll conducted by David Granatstein, sustainable agriculture specialist at Washington State University, which concluded up to 90% of all organic apple and pear producers may switch to non-organic orchards if an alternative control is not available by the time oxytetracycline is banned.
Coupled with the increasing demand for organic apple and pear products, the industry could potentially see a large imbalance of supply and demand.
Growers know the research needed to find a sustainable cure needs to happen fast, something that isn’t necessarily likely.
“We are working hard on a replacement to antibiotics and some cures are root stocks changes which will not happen fast,” said Roger Pepperl, marketing director of Stemilt Growers Inc., Wenatchee, Wash.
Organic Center publication
In July, The Organic Center began a project to provide the organic community the information needed to prevent the disease.
The project, a collaboration with Granatstein and Harold Ostenson, is intended to research integrative antibiotic-free treatment strategies.
Jessica Shade, director of science programs for The Organic Center, said the project is intended to provide growers with information from organic operations who already have been working to treat fire blight without antibiotics.
“It will share the lessons learned by growers who have already been avoiding antibiotics to comply with European standards,” Shade said.
In addition to the full report, the project also includes a table with photos of infestation at different stages so growers can look for different treatments others have tried at that stage, according to Shade.
“The chart will have pictures and descriptions of the different action items,” she said.
The draft is in the review stage to ensure it covers all the latest research and is clear for technical and non-technical audiences.
“We have members from all over the U.S. looking over the draft so we can make this document more understandable,” Shade said.
The project doesn’t seek to establish new solutions, but rather to share information growers already have been using.
Shade said the project would provide a good supplement to research efforts currently underway at Oregon State University.
“Those efforts may eventually provide specific treatments as material alternatives to antibiotics,” she said.
The center’s publication will provide growers with a more holistic approach, including techniques that will fit together with specific treatment substitutions when those become available, almost as a stepping stone.
“The research on those new treatments might not be published for several years, so something needed to be done in the meantime,” Shade said.
If these new treatments are not ready by the time the antibiotic is banned, organic apple supplies will be in a real danger.
“It will reduce the amount of industry acreage on some varieties and locations. It is a big deal and a true threat. We will weather the threat with time, but some recession will occur from this,” Pepperl said.
Shade is hopeful the Organic Center’s efforts will help growers feel more at ease.
“There hasn’t been a lot of press about how to control fire blight without antibiotics, so knowing people have done it and sharing the different methods will not only be comforting but will provide solid scaffolding concerned growers can build upon,” she said.
The final draft should be ready for growers after the first of the year to be helpful for the 2014 growing season, according to Shade.