USDA Project Seeks to Control Fire Blight Without Antibiotics In Organic Apples

MSU receives $464,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Published on: Jan 2, 2014

Copper bactericides pose their own challenges.
"They've been shown to be effective, but they can also cause russeting -- the formation of blemishes -- on the apples," Sundin said. "Damaged fruit doesn't sell, so we need to learn whether applying copper bactericides in lower quantities or at different times can mitigate that."

Taking a systematic approach, Sundin aims to give organic apple growers the tools they need to protect their crops.

"Understanding how to optimize the use of organically certified materials for fire blight control is really important," he says. "These materials may seem weaker than streptomycin simply because we're not using them correctly."

The project will also help conventional orchards. The team will deliver its results to growers through written and online materials.

Helping organic growers is vital to Michigan's apple industry, Sundin says "Organic produce is becoming more and more important to Michigan consumers," he says. "There's no reason for them to have to get their apples from Washington when we can grow them here."

Having the right techniques to ensure healthy crops is one of the best ways to make that happen.

"We get a lot of disease pressure here because of our climate," Sundin says. "We need good management tools. That's something we have for conventional apples but not yet for organics."

The project will begin this summer and continue through summer 2016. As the research progresses, Sundin says he plans to upload videos to http://www.youtube.com/user/treefruitpathology.