Storm Arthur: Fire blight scorches 80% of Valley orchards

The ripple effects of post-tropical storm Arthur are still being felt across the Maritimes and it's being blamed for damaging up to 80 per cent of Annapolis Valley apple trees.

'Fire blight has certainly reached an epidemic level this year,' says horticulturist

Fire blight is a destructive bacterial disease that damages apple trees and reduces their ability to produce fruit. Trees look as if they have been scorched by fire, giving the blight its name. (Stephanie VanKampen/CBC)

The ripple effects of post-tropical storm Arthur are still being felt across the Maritimes.

In the Annapolis Valley, fire blight has scorched up to 80 per cent of some apple orchards — and Perennia Horticulturalist Chris Duyvelshoff says the blame rests squarely with Arthur. 

"With a situation like Arthur, where you have a very strong wind — we had 138 km/h winds here in Greenwood — that opens up a number of microscopic cracks in the leaves," he said.

"Combined with the bacteria blowing around in the storm, that creates the perfect situation where you have a number of new entry points for the infection to spread."

Fire blight is a bacterial infection, named for its ability to leave apple trees looking as if they have been set ablaze. 

"Fire blight has certainly reached an epidemic level this year and it's affected probably about ¾ to 80 per cent of the orchards here in the Valley," said Duyvelshoff.

The disease isn't harmful to people, and it isn't expected to hurt this year's harvest, but it will cost growers like Stephen Van Meekeran. 

"We're talking in the range of — just for the plant material, the trees themselves — in excess of $10,000 to $12,000 an acre," he said.

On Monday night, growers met to learn how to deal with the blight. 

However their options are basically limited to cutting out the blighted branches and treating the trees with copper. 

"This is certainly a setback because, you know, we're going to have to take a step back before we can go forward again before we can get through this one," said Rob Peil, with the Nova Scotia Fruit Grower's Association. 

It's too early to say how widespread the impact will be.

For now growers are just cutting the blight out in an attempt to save their trees.

"It's been a challenging year and Nova Scotia has never seen an epidemic like this for fire blight. However, other areas in North America — like Michigan and New York — they have seen fire blight events that have been very bad before and their industry has survived," said Duyvelschoff.

"It won't mean the end of apple production in Nova Scotia, due to the disease."