FRUIT growers are being urged to monitor infection risk and put prevention measures in orchards where scab levels built-up due to last season's wet harvest.

Where scab was present at the end of August, the wet and mild weather and extended picking period allowed the disease to increase in severity during harvest, as well as leaf senescence.

Continued adverse autumn weather also meant that opportunities to inoculate were limited.

Technical manager for Agrovista Fruit, Alex Radu, said: "In some orchards, leaf litter is still present on the ground that just hasn't had time to decompose before the start of the new season.

"This means substantial levels of inoculum have overwintered, and with few cultural control options available due to ground conditions, preventative programmes should start as soon as primary scab risk becomes significant and it is possible to travel in orchards.

"As we are experiencing a mild, wet February, the start of ascospore dissemination is imminent and infection risk is bound to become significant soon."

Scab is a fungal disease that cause dark, scabby marks on the fruit and leaves of apples, pears and some ornamental fruits.

It spreads by airborne spores and survives the winter on fallen leaves and tree bark, which are released again during spring rainfall. If foliage remains wet, infections will start to develop on new leaves and fruitlets, if fungicide cover is inadequate.

Mr Radu added: "Monitoring is key, not only to know when significant infections are taking place, but to also avoid unnecessary product applications.

"It's no doubt that this is going to be a challenging year and we want growers to be scab vigilant."