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Climate Change Might Be Threatening the Future of Apples

Warmer, rainier springs are a boon to fire blight, a disease that hits cider apple trees hard. It may soon threaten all apples, and other fruit crops.

Fire blight is a bacterial pathogen that spreads easily during blooming season and has the potential to kill not just individual apple trees but entire orchards.

Fire blight is a bacterial pathogen that spreads easily during blooming season and has the potential to kill not just individual apple trees but entire orchards.

Photographer: Karolina Wojtasik/Bloomberg

Patrick and Sara McGuire have been growing apples since they were married 25 years ago. Their 150 acres in Ellsworth, Michigan—dubbed Royal Farms—are a mix of sweet apples and the bitter varieties suited for making hard cider.

Last spring they put in a new crop of Honeycrisps, one of America’s favorite apples, only to discover an unwelcome visitor just a few weeks later: A bacterial menace known as fire blight.