Sep 16, 2019
Fire blight recovery research sponsored in New York

Apple research funded by the farmer-driven Northern New York Agricultural Development Program and conducted by Srdjan G. Acimovic, of the Hudson Valley Research Laboratory, has helped New York apple growers recover from the 2016 epidemic of fire blight in the Champlain Valley region.

“The impact of this research is depicted in the fact that growers did not have any new fire blight epidemics in 2017 or 2018 in the same or nearby orchards nor any new tree or fruit losses,” said Acimovic, a Senior Extension Associate in the Cornell University School of Integrative Plant Science Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology Section.

Fire blight is a bacterial disease that infects apple flowers, shoots, and, sometimes, entire trees, with the potential to cause severe economic damage to orchard businesses.

Cornell researchers estimate the damage, including yield loss and tree death, from a fire blight epidemic in northern New York orchards in 2016 at more than $14 million.

Seven northern New York apple farms and one Hudson Valley apple grower have worked with Acimovic as his research team refines the development of fire blight detection and prediction tools and associated management recommendations.

The detection of the fire blight pathogen in rootstocks in the northern New York orchards helped growers identify infected trees for removal, and, in some cases, which orchard blocks needed replanting after the 2016 outbreak.

“A year ago, in September 2018, when we rated trees in the northern New York apple orchards for tree death caused by fire blight, we detected very little change in six of the seven farms and only slightly more dead trees on one farm,” Acimovic noted.

On-farm monitoring, location-specific fire blight prediction interpretation, and e-mail alerts with management recommendations have kept growers ahead of the disease curve, encouraged precision treatment application, and, therefore, reduced spraying.

The NNY orchard owners allowed Acimovice to use their data to support alerts to growers statewide.

Acimovic advises caution as the fire blight pathogen can linger at low levels beyond the detection of current tools. He has worked with northern New York growers in 2019 to enhance the sensitivity of the detection equipment.

The current precision apple orchard research funded by the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program is also developing a more in-depth understanding of the strains of fire blight bacterium to learn their virulence and ability to infect orchards not only in northern New York, but anywhere in New York State.

“Characterizing the various strains of fire blight will inform us more about the susceptibility or resistance an orchard may have, and how well it might respond to treatment,” Acimovic said.

The NNYADP-funded apple research in 2019 is applying new disease prediction models to time and reduce spraying, measuring the efficacy of copper applications to manage fire blight, and analyzing the dynamics of the pathogen development in tree cankers over the years of data collected in the northern New York orchards.

Apple growers interested in more information on this research may contact Cornell Cooperative Extension Tree Fruit Specialist Michael Basedow at 518-410-6823. The Northern New York Agricultural Development Program website at www.nnyagdev.org includes a link to the Acimovic Lab disease management and modeling blog.

– Northern New York Agricultural Development Program

Funding for the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program is supported by the New York State Legislature and administered by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.

Photo: Peggy Greb, USDA

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