A branch of gala apples exhibits the telltale scorched symptoms of fire blight.
A branch of gala apples exhibits the telltale scorched symptoms of fire blight.

At the end of the 2014 season, organic pome fruit growers will have to begin phasing out use of antibiotics to control fire blight in orchards.

To help with the transition, The Organic Center, Washington, D.C., funded a project to share lessons organic growers in the Pacific Northwest have learned using a systems approach to non-antibiotic fire blight control.

This comes after the National Organics Standards Board, which reviews allowable products, last year decided to phase out the use of streptomycin and oxytetracline for fire blight control, beginning in October.

This is a reversal of earlier policies. Since the National Organic Program began in 2002, it had allowed the use of antibiotics to control fire blight on apples and pears, because it deemed there was no organic alternative.

The report, titled "Grower Lessons and Emerging Research for Developing an Integrated Non-Antibiotic Fire Blight Control Program in Organic Fruit," was issued in collaboration with David Granatstein, sustainable agriculture specialist at Washington State University, and consultant Harold Ostenson.

Among the issues covered are sanitation, vigor control, sequence and timing of control materials, spray coverage and variety susceptibility.

The goal is to help fill the knowledge gap and to encourage growers to begin experimenting on their own before the antibiotics sunset, according to a news release.

In fact, the lack of information about control alternatives has raised concern among organic pome fruit growers.

A poll by Granatstein found more than 70 percent of organic apple and pear growers in the state would consider switching to conventional practices if effective antibiotic alternatives are not available by the end of this year.

This comes at a time when demand for organic apples and pears is at an all-time high, according to the release.

At the same time, researchers from three states are working together to find non-antibiotic fire blight controls, according to the release.

The tri-state project results aren't expected until 2015.

The work is being led by plant pathology professor Ken Johnson of Oregon State University.

Once the project is completed, the results will be combined with The Organic Center report.

Download the report by clicking here.

Read more about the National Organics Standards Board and possible fire blight control alternatives on TheGrower.com.