March 7, 2014 –
As Organic Rules Shift for Fire Blight Control, The Organic Center Releases Essential Suggestions for Apple and Pear Growers
Organic-Approved Antibiotics Sunsetting – Report Aims to Help Growers Keep Certification
WASHINGTON, DC (March 4, 2014) – With approved antibiotics for fire blight control expiring for organic apple and pear growers
this fall, The Organic Center has released an essential report featuring existing practices and emerging research to help growers control fire blight while maintaining organic certification.
“Grower Lessons and Emerging Research for Developing an Integrated Non-Antibiotic Fire Blight Control Program in Organic Fruit” –
available here – collects critical knowledge from U.S. apple and pear growers who already practice fire blight prevention without
the commonly-used antibiotic oxytetracycline that the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) will begin sunsetting in Oct. 2014.
Funded by The Organic Center, the 28-page report arrives as up to 70 percent of growers in a surveyed region said they may
transition from organic to conventional management in face of NOSB’s changes if proven alternative organic fire blight control methods are not available.
Organic Growers Exposed, Supply at Risk as Standards Phase Out Antibiotics
Unlike some fruit pathogens, fire blight doesn’t just damage or destroy a season’s fruit – it can kill the entire tree under
severe conditions. It is caused by the bacteria Erwinia amylovora, spreads easily among trees and orchards, and can infect at different points in the growing season.
For decades, the primary control of fire blight in U.S. organic production has been the antibiotics streptomycin and
oxytetracycline. But, NOSB has approved a proposal for phasing out their use beginning this Oct. Dr. Ken Johnson, Oregon State
University, is leading a three-state USDA-OREI project on non-antibiotic control of fire blight in organic orchards to be completed in 2015.
“The interim year between approved antibiotics sunsetting and release of the OREI project findings leaves growers with minimal
guidance and experience for non-antibiotic fire blight control,” said Dr. Jessica Shade, Director of Science Programs for The
Organic Center. “It’s unfortunate timing, as organic apple and pear demand are at all-time highs. If U.S. production declines,
organic apple and pear prices could spike, or imports from South America – where the disease is not present – could greatly increase.”
Organic Center Encourages Testing Alternatives Now
“Grower Lessons and Emerging Research” encourages organic apple and pear growers to begin testing alternatives now with integrated
non-antibiotic fire blight control options that have proven successful for some organic growers.
The report is based on field experiences from organic growers who have already developed various approaches to non-antibiotic fire
blight control – particularly exporters to Europe, which does not allow antibiotics – along with preliminary results from a range of research trials on new materials and strategies.
The study suggests successful non-antibiotic fire blight control combines orchard management practices with an integrated systems
approach for prevention. The report features suggestions for fungal control, insect control, bloom thinning, spray coverage, tree
training, soil and foliar nutrients, and cultivar and root stock selection. And, it provides detailed considerations for each
stage of apple and pear production. Some of the research is now validating the grower practices, such as the fire blight control from lime sulfur blossom thinning sprays.
Shade added once Oregon State’s findings are available in 2015, growers can combine the university’s recommendations with The
Organic Center’s report to give them the benefit of the latest research as well as field-proven strategies.
The study’s co-authors are Harold Ostenson, a Washington-based tree fruit consultant, and David Granatstein, Sustainable
Agriculture Specialist for the Washington State University Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources.
About The Organic Center
Established in 2002 and based in Washington DC, The Organic Center is a nonprofit organization that is a trusted source of
information for scientific research about organic food and farming. We cover up-to-date studies on sustainable agriculture and
health, and collaborate with academic and governmental institutions to fill gaps in our knowledge.
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