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Northwest Farmers Battle Fresh Enemy: Little Cherry Disease

Andrea Bixby-Brosi
Washington State University
In this Chelan County orchard earlier this summer, the bottom bunch of fruit is infected with Little Cherry Virus 2, while the upper fruit is normal and healthy.

A fresh agricultural foe has orchardists bulldozing and burning cherry trees across Washington and Oregon.

A few years ago farmers would hardly talk about “little cherry disease.” Now, the fruit industry and government are throwing hundreds of thousands of dollars at research.

It’s does what it sounds like: little cherry disease stunts cherries. They’re smaller, an un-ripe red and don’t taste right.

Andrea Bixby-Brosi studies the disease for Washington State University in Wenatchee. She said farmers can’t tell they’ve got little cherry until harvest time when it’s too late. And she said cutting down an orchard and replanting isn’t always enough -- it can come back through the roots.

“You may not know that the orchard is infested for three to four years during the time when there is no fruit on the [newly planted] trees,” Bixby-Brosi noted.

Little cherry disease is mostly spread through insects. It’s a varying combo-punch of two viruses and bacteria.

British Columbia’s cherry industry was decimated decades ago by little cherry disease.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.