The New York Department of Agriculture and Markets is lifting a ban on planting new peach trees and other stone fruit in Orleans and Wayne counties after they tested free of the plum pox virus the past three years.
The decision will open up 24,000 acres in the two counties for plantings.
"This is great news for New York's stone fruit industry in Wayne and Orleans counties," said Darrel Aubertine, the state's agriculture commissioner. "I'm cautiously optimistic that this progress will soon lead to a total eradication of the plum pox virus here in New York state, and in turn, the continental United States."
Neighboring Niagara County tested positive for plum pox in 2011. This year there weren't any positive tests statewide for the first time since 2006.
While Orleans and Wayne fruit growers can plant stone fruit trees again, a quarantine remains for propagation. That means farmers and residents cannot collect budwood and nursery plantings.
New York ranks 11th in the nation for peaches, with a crop valued at $8.4 million in 2011.
"The economic impact of this new designation on Orleans and Wayne county growers will be tremendous," Aubertine said.
When there is a positive test, peach and other stone fruit trees have to be ripped out of the ground and destroyed. New stone fruit trees can't be replanted until after a three-year wait with no new detections.
Stone fruits--peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums and prunes--have stone pits in them. The plum pox virus reduces yields and shortens tree lives.
It also discolors the tender fruit, making the food--while safe to eat--unmarketable. The virus doesn't affect apples, the area's most dominant fruit. The virus is spread on infested budwood or through transmission by aphids, small insects with piercing and sucking mouthparts.
Pennsylvania and Michigan also were previously infected with plum pox, but have been declared free of the virus, leaving New York as the last state with a quarantine in effect.
The virus first appeared in New York in Niagara County in 2006 and was later found in Orleans and Wayne. Since then, state inspectors conducted surveys in a 16-county region. The inspectors took 155,927 samples in 2012 from more than 1,250 acres.
"This is great news for Orleans and Wayne county. We are hopeful that this is a sign of good things to come in the near future for the entire state," said Jim Bittner, a Niagara County fruit grower and chairman of the NY Farm Viability Institute.