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Core concerns: Climate change presents challenging future for apple industry

Core concerns: Climate change presents challenging future for apple industry

Apple growers in northern climates such as Michigan and Vermont are facing more outbreaks of a nemesis long battled by Washington apple growers – a pathogen known as fire blight that when left unchecked can decimate entire orchards.

While officials believe climate change and warmer conditions when apple trees are blossoming are contributing to fire blight’s spread, warmer and drier conditions alone continue to be the single largest threat to Washington’s apple industry that relies completely on irrigation.

“You don’t produce tree fruit without irrigation,” said Chad Kruger, the director of Washington State University’s Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee. “Unlike a lot of wheat, which is dryland, you never plant a fruit tree without knowing you have irrigation water.”

Jon DeVaney, president of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association, said warmer weather isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the state’s nation-leading apple industry.

“Certain varieties of fruit are more susceptible to heat,” DeVaney said. “Certain weather conditions are good or not good for tree fruit.”

That assumes the growers have access to irrigation, however.

“Our climate issues surround more about water management,” he said. “Where the irrigation systems of central Washington set up, they assume a certain amount of snowpack.

“If that alters, that can create drought conditions in the basin.”

Kruger was taking part Thursday in a webinar with other officials discussing the most recent 20-year outlook for available water for growers known as the 2021 Columbia River Basin Long-Term Water Supply & Demand Forecast.

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