Nova Scotia apple growers are fighting an outbreak of fire blight that threatens next year’s crops.

The bacterium likely arrived with tropical storm Arthur and has affected nearly every orchard in the province.

While this year’s apples are healthy and nearly ready for harvesting, thousands of new trees have been badly damaged.

Andy Parker planted thousands of trees in his Berwick orchard last year, but they were badly damaged by the blight. The trees were essentially pruned into twigs in an effort to cut out the blight.

“Probably between 1,000 and 2,000 trees. Maybe even a little higher than that. Depends on how they survive the winter,” he said.

Robert Peill’s Port Williams orchard suffered too.

"In this block there, about 700 trees that are gone. And there is no hope for what you see here. That's pretty well dead stuff,” he said.

90% of orchards hit

Chris Duyvelshoff, a horticulturist with the Crown agency Perennia, said it was a dire situation.  

"The worst we've ever experienced here in Nova Scotia. Over 90 per cent of the orchards are affected in some way,” he said.

Pruning in the weeks after Arthur helped limit some of the damage on mature trees but the new ones were too small to survive. 

"We are talking roughly in the neighborhood of about 10,000 trees industry-wide,” he said.

Apple growers hope the worst of the blight is over, and that some of the trees will recover to bear fruit next year.

No harm to humans or other animals

The federal Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food says fire blight is caused by Erwinia amylovora and is a bacterial disease of apple, pear, hawthorn, crabapple and ornamentals in the Rosaceae family.

The disease can result in the loss of branches and tree structure. In severe cases, when the bacteria progresses into the trunk or infects the rootstock, entire trees can be killed.

The severity of disease is dependant on cultivar and rootstock susceptibility, general tree health, cultural practices and environmental conditions, the department says. Economic losses to fire blight occur due to a loss of fruit-bearing surface and tree mortality.

Trees may need to be removed and replanted or, in severe cases, whole blocks of trees may need to be replaced.

There is no cure for fire blight, but the spread can be limited. 

The Nova Scotia Fruit Growers’ Association says the blight does not affect humans or other animals.