Orchardists Warned to Look Out for Diseases

6/8/2013 7:00 AM
By Teresa McMinn Southeastern Pa. Correspondent

KEMPTON, Pa. — Eager to learn what their tree-growing colleagues find successful, about 80 folks boarded wagons pulled by tractors late last month and headed up the rolling hills at Scholl Orchards in Albany Township, Berks County.

The 45-acre farm, which grows peaches, apples, pears, cherries, plums and vegetables, was one stop in a series of recent orchard twilight meetings held across the state by Penn State Extension.

Such meeting are important, Scholl Orchards owner George Scholl said, because they provide a venue for industry experts to discuss challenges, including government regulations and ways to control expenses.

“Cooperation with the colleges is essential,” he said.

The Scholls, in the orchard business since 1948, also have a farm with a market in Bethlehem, Pa.

The family business, which sells to mostly retail and some wholesale customers, is operated by Scholl and his wife, Faith, with help from their grown children, Ben, Jake, Martha and Emily.

“The growers do a lovely job of the organization,” said Tianna DuPont, educator in sustainable agriculture for Penn State Cooperative Extension in Northampton and Lehigh counties. “We bring in timely research information.”

Kari Peter, an assistant professor and research associate in tree fruit pathology at the Penn State Fruit Research Center in Biglerville, Pa., talked about peach leaf curl, a fungus that can cause crop loss.

“That’s something I’ve heard a lot about,” she said.

Right now, there’s nothing growers can do to prevent the disease because its spores live in tree bark and around buds.

“The areas where the spores are, are protected by leaves,” she said, which means fungicides should be applied in autumn after leaves have fallen or in spring before buds form.

Additionally, powdery mildew on apples could be a problem for growers this season, she said.

“We’re seeing it ... in Biglerville,” and it ruins the appearance of an apple, she said. “The apple itself is fine.”

Peter said folks should “spray by the numbers” and read labels to find a Fungicide Resistance Action Committee code group number, which recommends the right balance of chemicals in a certain rotation needed to outsmart pathogens.

“You rotate different fungicides with different modes of action,” she said.

Peter also talked about fire blight — a bacterium that can live in the bark of a tree trunk and appears to be more of an issue in western Pennsylvania.

“It’ll devastate an orchard,” she said, when heat, humidity and blossoming conditions are at a certain point.

If that happens, Extension officials encourage growers to spray blossoms with an antibiotic.

“A whole crop can be ruined,” she said, but if weather conditions are dry, “the disease isn’t going to be a problem.”

To learn more about the Fungicide Resistance Action Committee, visit www.frac.info/.


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