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Pennsylvania Remains Plum Pox Free

In 1999, a non-curable plant virus native to Europe was found in Pennsylvania, causing severe economic loss to the state and a potential threat to the rest of the nation's fruit production.

Nicole Bucher, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture says growers in Pennsylvania can "breathe a sigh of relief," because the commonwealth has been declared free of the plum pox virus since October 2009.

Originally found in Adams County, it was the first-ever detection of the virus in North America. Despite the name, the contagious disease contaminates all plants classified as stone-fruit trees.

"Things like almond, apricot, cherry, nectarine, peach and plum trees [are affected]," Bucher said.

She says the plum pox virus is spread by aphids, or plant lice, and causes premature fruit drop and blemishes, but poses no health threat to humans or animals.

"It certainly does affect how appetizing the fruit is to eat," Bucher said. "It certainly doesn't look pretty."

According to Bucher the unappealing appearance makes it difficult to sell as table fruit, and therefore results in economic loss. Bucher says eliminating the virus cost $30 million, which does not include income losses to growers and workers.

Bucher says that the stone fruit industry in Pennsylvania is "robust," adding that peach production alone totals $23.9 million, which ranks the state fifth in the nation.

After the initial detection, federal and state agriculture officials collaborated with Pennsylvania State University and created a 300 square-mile quarantine area, eliminating all the trees infected.

1,675 orchard acres were eradicated, but since the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) declared the incident a state of emergency in 2000, they provided funding for the eradication, research, collection of the samples, and compensation for profit loss.

From 2000 to 2010, Bucher says, over 80 summer interns worked from May to October to collect about 2 million samples to be tested.

Bucher says that Adams, Cumberland, Franklin, and York Counties will continue to be surveyed for the virus in the summer of 2012 and another full survey is scheduled for 2013.