March 18, 2015
Albany, NY

Governor Cuomo Announces Success Against Invasive Species in Niagara County

TOP Governor Cuomo Announces Success Against...

14,400 Acres Deregulated, Allowing Farmers to Begin Planting in Time For Spring

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Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that for the third year in a row, inspectors have detected no evidence of the invasive species Plum Pox Virus in stone fruit trees in New York State. Due to these positive results, farmers covering land on more than 14,400 acres in Niagara County will be able to plant stone fruit trees in the county, including peaches, plums, nectarines and apricots—in some areas for the first time since 2006.

"With the successful removal of this invasive species, a vital part of New York's agricultural industry can once again use the almost 15,000 affected acres," Governor Cuomo said. "Farmers make their living off what they produce, and allowing fruit trees to be planted will help them meet their goals and continue contributing to one of the most important industries in this state."

In 2014, inspectors from the State Department of Agriculture collected nearly 120,000 samples in Niagara, Orleans and Wayne counties, which all tested negative for Plum Pox Virus. This means that 14,400 acres will be released from a strict Regulated Area to a less stringent Quarantine Area, and that Prunus trees can once again be planted in what was a "no plant zone." The testing was assisted by a $568,000 grant from the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

When stone fruit trees are infected with the Plum Pox Virus, yields are reduced, tree life is shortened, and fruits are disfigured to the point where they become unmarketable. The virus is spread on infested budwood or through transmission by aphids, a small insect. Plum Pox Virus does not pose any health risks to humans.

Jim Bittner, Partner in Bittner-Singer Orchards in Appleton, NY, said, “This deregulation will allow us to plant 15 new acres of peach orchards this year and another 20 in 2016. Peach trees don’t live forever and we’ll soon need to replace some of our older orchards. This new step taken by New York State will allow us to do that with new varieties and new, more efficient planting systems.”

Prior to this new designation, Niagara County was the last county in the nation with an active Plum Pox Virus designation. The virus first appeared in the U.S. in Pennsylvania in October 1999 and was eradicated in that state in 2009. It first appeared in New York State in Niagara County in 2006 and was later found in Orleans and Wayne Counties. Since then, state inspectors have conducted surveys in the three county region. Wayne and Orleans Counties went from Regulated Area to Quarantine Area designation in 2012. Since then, both counties have had two years of clean monitoring survey for total of five years of negative samples to date. If at the end of the 2015 survey no positives are found in those two counties, all remaining restrictions on those two counties will be lifted.

State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said, “Invasive species are a huge threat to our thriving agriculture industry, which is why a victory like this one is indeed worth celebrating. While we are not out of the woods yet in our efforts to eradicate Plum Pox Virus in New York, the fact that farmers can begin planting again is great news for Niagara County agriculture. I thank Governor Cuomo and our partners at all levels of government and industry for their continued support in our efforts to combat invasive species here in New York.”

Today’s success in near eradication of this disease is due in large part to the cooperation of all fruit and nursery growers in the state. Since the first detection of Plum Pox Virus in Niagara County, Agriculture and Markets staff have met individually each year with all affected fruit growers in New York State to go over the quarantine and ensure compliance. Additionally, they have worked with the nursery industry to make sure they know where they can and cannot sell plants, and know where they can and cannot propagate. The agency also required anyone in the area selling stone fruit plants to have a compliance agreement in place to ensure they were aware of the rules and regulations surrounding this invasive species.

Governor Cuomo has put forth a number of initiatives to combat invasive species in New York State. In July 2012, he signed legislation providing the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Department of Agriculture and Markets with the authority to regulate the sale, purchase, possession, introduction, importation and transport of invasive species. The law also established penalties for those in violation of such regulations. The Governor has also proposed a $1 million increase to the Environmental Protection Fund in the next fiscal year to fight the spread of invasive species. New York produces an abundance of stone fruit, with thousands of acres devoted to peaches, nectarines, plums and apricots. New York ranks 11th in the nation for peaches, producing 6,680 tons valued at $11,156,000 in 2014.

The Department of Agriculture and Markets’ Division of Plant Industry works with federal and state agencies along with partners in the agriculture community to combat invasive species on agricultural lands. Active programs include the Asian Longhorned Beetle program in New York City and Long Island, the Golden Nematode program on Long Island and parts of some upstate counties including Steuben, Seneca and Wayne, and the Emerald Ash Borer program across the state.

Senator Patty Ritchie said, “Making these lands open to planting more fruit trees is an important step for the farmers of this region, whose livelihood depends on what they can produce. I commend the Governor for safely fighting against the Plum Pox Virus and for making these lands once again available for New York State agriculture.”

Assemblyman Bill Magee said, “For several years, 14,400 acres of land were not available to the farmers who needed it most. But with Governor Cuomo’s successful strategy to eradicate this invasive species from Niagara County, that land can now be used for what it was intended. The Plum Pox Virus was a threatening species, and I am thrilled that farms are now able to be used to produce food products and boost the industry.”

New York Farm Bureau President Dean Norton said, “New York Farm Bureau is happy that NYSDAM’s efforts to contain Plum Pox have paid off in the region. Our growers in Niagara County can once again have the option to plant the popular fruit varieties. Diversification is important to farmers who look to expand what they offer to consumers in order to reduce risk and support their bottom line."

Surveys in Niagara County included a focus on the area closest to the Niagara River since Canada still has this disease in its peach orchards. Before planting this year in the regulated area, fruit growers and nurseries are encouraged to contact the Plum Pox eradication program staff at (585) 370-1606.

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Contact the Governor's Press Office
Contact the Governor's Press Office

NYC Press Office:  212.681.4640

Albany Press Office:  518.474.8418