- GETTYSBURG, Pa. - A deadly
fruit tree virus may force some Pennsylvania peach farmers to destroy their
crops worth millions of dollars, farmers and agriculture officials said
- The plum pox virus, which previously has been seen only
in Europe, was discovered in Pennsylvania September. The virus, dubbed
the "AIDS of fruit trees," has infected more than one-third of
the 2,500 acres (1,000 hectares) of peach orchards in Adams County in south
- A U.S. Agriculture Department official said the agency
was discussing issuing an "extraordinary emergency order" that
would give farmers indemnity payments to burn infected crops. The official
did not say when that order might take effect or how much of the areas
crops would be affected.
- John Halbrendt, a plant pathologist at Pennsylvania State
University, said destroying infected trees is the only way to stem the
- "There is no cure for an infected tree," Halbrendt
- The virus, which can infect peach, plum, apricot, nectarine
and almond trees, poses no risk to human health, said William Kleiner,
Adams County extension service director.
- "It doesn't kill you. It just cuts production down.
It's a slow death to the tree," he said, adding that farmers fear
a drop in fruit sales due to wary consumers.
- "It's all so new to us." said James Lerew,
whose farm located 16 miles north of Gettysburg has been infected. "We
don't have an idea why it hit here ... we just don't know where it's going
- When asked how much of his crop he would have to destroy
to eradicate the virus, he said, "possibly all of it."
- According to the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, losses from
destroying trees could range from $500,000 to $1 million per farm.
- Moreover, if the virus continued to spread, the USDA
could impose a five-year ban on growing peaches, area farmers said, dealing
a devastating economic blow to a region that grows 43 percent of Pennsylvania's
peach crop and is a prime competitor in international markets.
- "The area where they found the virus grows some
of the prettiest peaches; these are some of the healthiest orchards,"
said John Rice, owner of a local fruit farm and packing plant. "It
just doesn't compute."
- The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has already embargoed
imports of certain types of fruit trees and seeds from Pennsylvania.
- Federal and state plant pathologists have been analysing
samples from infected trees to determine the virus source, which is suspected
to be Europe or Chile.
- "No one is sure how it got here," said USDA
official Edna Suggs.
- State agriculture officials also have asked experts from
England and France to visit the infected orchards in early December.