(May 31) A handful of stone fruit growers in Michigan and New York have a pox on their orchards, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, declaring an “extraordinary emergency,” wants to remove infected trees and trees that fall within a 500-meter buffer zone.

The removal won’t have any substantial effect on fruit availability this year. However, if the plum pox virus eradication effort fails, it could translate into stone fruit acreage decreases in New York and perhaps Michigan.

Stone fruit varieties like peaches and nectarines could be replaced by apples, blueberries, wine grapes and other fruit varieties not susceptible to the virus.

Clearing the way for immediate eradication efforts, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued its declaration May 23 after plum pox was found in Michigan and New York.

Eradication efforts in Michigan were expected to begin in late May, said Bill Shane, district fruit and academic specialist for Michigan State University’s Southwest Michigan Research and Education Center in Benton Harbor. A tree tested positive for the plum pox at the center, which houses some of the state’s peach varieties for research.

The plum pox virus is the most devastating viral disease of stone fruit worldwide, causing yield losses to growers and reducing marketability of fruit, the USDA said. The virus is found in Europe and Chile, but has not spread to the multitude of stone fruit orchards of California.

Jim Bittner, president of Singer Farms LLC, Appleton, N.Y., said one tree in one of his orchards tested positive for the disease. Bittner said it is widely believed New York stone fruit received it via aphids from nearby Ontario, where growers have the plum pox.

The USDA said the eradication program would involve removal of all infected and host trees within 500 meters.

Bittner said the industry had argued for a buffer of 50 meters, and said the state of New York agriculture officials had not yet agreed to the 500-meter buffer zone as of May 23.

The USDA said in its notice that New York and Michigan don’t have sufficient resources to carry out the eradication. Because the USDA said plum pox is a “real danger to the national economy and a potential serious burden on interstate and foreign commerce,” it issued the declaration, allowing USDA to hold, seize, quarantine, treat or destroy any plant or plant product believed to be infected with the virus.

Bittner said a 50-meter buffer is sufficient for New York, in part because Ontario’s growers haven’t put in place an aggressive eradication problem until this year.

Bittner said a 500-meter buffer would cost him a farm.

“I’m looking at blueberries and wine grapes. I’m not going to wait for eradication in Canada,” he said.

Routine surveys and testing by the USDA and the Michigan Department of Agriculture flagged the plum pox virus in August in a single plum tree at the at the research center in Benton Harbor. Shane, a researcher at the center, said the eradication effort there would be paid for by the university, which plans to seek federal and state assistance. The research facility will lose all of its peach, nectarines, apricot and plum trees, because all its trees were within 500 meters of the infected tree.