British Columbia

Little Cherry Disease spreading from U.S. to Canadian border, warns scientist

A Washington state scientist is warning cherry farmers in B.C.'s Okanagan, after U.S. farmers had to rip out huge numbers of trees due to "Little Cherry Disease."

Disease is spread by the apple mealybug and produces small, bitter, unmarketable cherries

This photo of a cherry tree was taken at harvest time in Chelan County, Wash. The top bunch is healthy, but the bottom bunch is infected with Little Cherry Disease. (Andrea Bixby-Brosi)

A Washington state scientist is warning cherry farmers in B.C.'s Okanagan, after U.S. farmers were forced to rip out huge numbers of trees due to "Little Cherry Disease."

"Little Cherry Disease causes the fruit to essentially be unmarketable, because the size of the cherry of the fruit is smaller than normal and the cherries taste bitter," said Andrea Bixby-Brosi.

Bixby-Brosi said the devastating virus has spread to every county across Washington state, and right up to the Canadian border.

"In some cases we've seen hundreds of acres pulled at a time due to this disease," she said. "It's a little bit out of control, so the Okanagan in Canada should be looking out for it for sure."

The disease is spread by apple mealybugs. It can only be destroyed by cutting down trees and destroying the roots. 

On this side of the border the Ministry of Agriculture says Little Cherry Disease was an issue in B.C. many years ago, but the disease was eradicated, and hasn't been a problem for more than a decade.

Meanwhile, in Washington state, Bixby-Brosi says many farmers aren't replanting cherries because of the risk of the disease returning.

"Washington state is the number one cherry producer in the country," she said. "I don't know if it will stay that way if we can't replant these orchards, or if they are going to have to go into apple production or pear production or some other alternative crop."

With files from Brady Strachan

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