Hazelnut Industry Falls Victim to Deadly Fungus
Springfield, OR – Authorities have discovered yet another deadly fungus threatening crops. This time it is on the branches of the nation’s oldest commercial hazelnut orchard in Oregon. The Eastern filbert blight has in the past decimated Oregon’s hazelnut industry and as recently as last year led to a quarantine of affected orchards. As part of an aggressive campaign to stamp out the blight, officials will spray the 80-acre Dorris Ranch as early as next week, home of the oldest commercial hazelnut orchard in the nation.
Located just south of Springfield, the trees at the Dorris Ranch orchard date to 1903, and more than half of all commercial filbert trees in the United States originate from the ranch’s nursery stock.
Officials have been scouring trees all over the region for signs of Eastern filbert blight, which infiltrated Lane County orchards about a decade ago. At Dorris Ranch last August, orchard manager Garry Rodakowski found little black pustules on a single branch of a single tree ? evidence that the blight had landed. Rodakowski cut and removed the branch and flagged the tree for close observation.
But with more than 9,200 trees on the ranch, keeping track of where the blight pops up next is difficult, if not impossible and agricultural officials decided to spray in order to not leave anything to chance. “Trying to find something that’s smaller than the head of a pencil up high in the tree is real difficult,” Rodakowski said. The district is spending $10,000 a year to spray a fungicide that coats the limbs and emerging buds, acting like a prophylactic against blight spores that travel miles in the wind, especially in wet weather. A rainy spring, as some have forecast, is expected to accelerate the spread of the blight. Agriculture officials have urged property owners to cut and burn diseased trees, and some have complied. Others have ignored the warnings, allowing the disease to fester and spread to commercial orchards.
At Dorris Ranch, officials say the regimen of scouting for pustules, pruning infected wood and spraying will now be a permanent chore. “It’s here and it’s never going to be eradicated,” Rodakowski said.
The disease originated in the Eastern states but was found in the Northwest in the 1960s, obliterating the filbert industry in some Oregon counties. The fungus emerges as rows of small, black cankers on limbs, eventually girdling infected branches and killing the leaves. It can result in an unproductive orchard in three to seven years and kill the trees in five to 12 years.
Orchards from Salem to Vancouver, Wash., have been hardest hit. The state Department of Agriculture tried to keep filbert blight from reaching the southern Willamette Valley by barring the sale of filbert nursery stock for ornamental, landscape, reforestation and land reclamation purposes. The agency lifted the quarantine in late 2003, declaring it had failed. Ross Penhallegon, a horticulturist with the Lane County Extension Service, believes that was a mistake. “With good monitoring, scouting and pruning, we can weather this,” Penhallegon said. “We’re way, way farther ahead than the north valley.” Known outbreaks of the blight in Lane, Linn and Benton counties grew from eight in late 2003 to 20 in January. That includes 15 commercial orchards. If the area can slow the spread, commercial growers will have time to replace vulnerable trees with disease-resistant varieties being cultivated by Oregon State University, Penhallegon said.
Many Oregon residents have been concerned as signs of a fungus problem are becoming more apparent. It is very noticeable while driving through the countryside, it is very evident that even the barns are covered with an unknown yellow fungus. A sulphur-type smell is obvious even in the most remote areas and many people wonder what is going on as last year the state’s plum and apricot crops produced fungal-covered fruit. Oregon is very dependent on their fruit crops and in light of all of the documented fungal illnesses, prevalent mold problems, and crops destroyed by fungus, many Oregonians are worried more about what is not being said about this obvious problem.