Ag experts warn of plum pox

March 14, 2000|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Fruit growers and agriculture agents in Franklin County, Pa., this spring will be on the lookout for the plum pox virus, which devastated some orchards in neighboring Adams County last year.

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"We were checked last fall and we were clean," said Dwight Mickey, co-owner of Shatzer's Fruit Market in St. Thomas, Pa. The business has only about two acres of plum trees, but also has about 15 acres of peaches and an acre of apricot trees, two other stone fruits that susceptible to the virus, he said.

"About half my acreage is in stone fruits that are affected by this," Mickey said Monday. He said the strain of the virus apparently does not affect cherry trees.

"We haven't been diagnosed as having any in our county," Farm Services Agency Director Tom Kerr said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture teams will inspect fruit trees throughout Franklin County, including all known backyard peach, plum and other stone fruit trees.


Mickey said plum pox "disfigures the fruit and causes the tree to decline and not put out as much fruit each year."

"It makes the fruit unmarketable," said Becky Andrews, who with her husband, Allan, owns Andrews Mountainside Farms in St. Thomas. She said they have blocks of peach trees on three farms and are concerned because they have purchased "bud wood" cuttings for grafting from a nursery in Adams County.

"They sampled us and we did test negative last October," she said. That doesn't erase her concern because "you can have a seemingly healthy tree and all of a sudden the disease is there," she said.

Mickey said the first inspections will probably be next month, because there have to be leaves on the trees to test for the virus. He said a friend in Adams County had to pull down about half his 60 acres of peach trees because of the virus.

"Even blocks (of trees) that tested positive in Adams County but had no symptoms of the disease are being removed," he said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced $1 million in disaster aid for peach growers in Adams County.

"It's not a sufficient amount, not for 200 acres of fruit," Andrews said.

Franklin County Horticulture Association President Robert Derrick said orchards are a long-term investment. A peach tree can produce fruit for more than 20 years, but it takes four years before a newly planted tree bears fruit.

Adams County ranks first in Pennsylvania in peach production. Franklin County is the second largest producer.

In 1995 the county produced 13.4 million pounds of peaches worth $3.7 million, but bad weather, development and other factors have reduced the number of orchards growing peaches, according to Derrick.

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