Virus scorches blueberry farms

New mutation is making diseased blueberry bushes hard to catch

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By Nicholas Naylor

The blueberry bush-killing scorch virus has been a common issue to B.C. farms, but virus mutations are making detection and treatments more difficult.

According to the BC Blueberry Council, several viruses affect blueberries, but the scorch virus is particularly damaging. The new strain will escape detection in test, and will continue to spread in blueberry farms. The contaminated plants don’t tend to recover and continually produce fewer blueberries.

“Scorch is the number one viral issue in blueberries in British Columbia,” said Eric Gerbrandt, director of research for the BC Blueberry Council.

In 2021, B.C. produced 87 per cent of Canada’s blueberries, and domestic blueberry exports totalled $111,225,898, according to Statistics Canada. These numbers dropped from previous years, but blueberries remain an important product in B.C.’s economy.

How do farmers deal with it

Ken Franz owns a small eight-acre blueberry farm in Abbotsford and has had scorch virus in his blueberry bushes. Franz says the only way to fight the scorch virus is to be diligent.

“Farmers need to all be more judicious in the way they evaluate their crops and do the testing
and make sure they pull out the plants,” said Franz.

Daniel Funk, whose father started their farm in 1968, has a similar message.

“Each individual farmer has to take what’s best recommended and just deal with it accordingly.”

New research conducted

The BC Blueberry Council is working with SFU and a diagnostic testing service in a research project to identify new scorch virus strains. If new strains that appear are recognizable through this diagnostic research, farmers could have a “better understanding of what’s out there in blueberry fields impacting growers,” Gerbrandt said.

The B.C. Blueberry Council provides information and free testing kits for scorch virus to farmers.

Gerbrandt says the scorch virus can be “economically devastating for growers that are
in a region with a high level of infection.”

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