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Violet Galvin: Eradicating a serious fruit virus

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If Violet Galvin has learned anything during her tenure as Project Manager of the CFIA's Plum Pox Virus Eradication Program, it's that flexibility is essential and change is inevitable. Working in partnership with tender fruit growers, researchers and provincial counterparts, Violet's 14-strong team of inspectors at the St. Catharines plum pox virus office has been charged with ridding Canadian orchards of the potentially devastating plum pox virus—and balancing producers' need to grow and sell fruit with her group's mandate to eradicate diseased and potentially diseased trees. "We've altered our eradication plan and moved out timelines for success several times since we formed our first plan in 2004. The beauty of working within the CFIA is that we have the latitude to make the changes we need to maintain good working relationships with producers."

Potentially devastating

Plum pox virus strikes stone fruits such as plums, apricots, nectarines and peaches. The virus causes spots or rings to form on the fruit and leaves and could substantially decrease yields. Plum pox is considered serious enough that its emergence has led to stringent quarantine measures. Although it has been detected in Pennsylvania and other locations around the world, nobody is certain how it made its way into Canada.

"Plum pox was first detected in 2000 and probably came in with some illegally imported material," says Violet. "But that's just speculation because we haven't been able to pinpoint the time or mode of entry."

Each summer Violet hires 25 students to sample trees and send the materials they collect to a testing lab at the University of Guelph. Agricorp, an agency of the Ontario government, hires another 150 students to ensure all potentially diseased orchards in the province are tested. If a tree tests positive, it is ordered removed.

"This place is hopping in the summer," says Violet, who relishes her work with young people. "I love dealing with plants, I love the challenge of eradicating this disease and especially love dealing with my energized and motivated crew; they're young people with a mission."

Significant resources

With an $85 million budget to eradicate plum pox virus, Violet feels a sense of mission too—although she's become accustomed to the vagaries of a disease spread primarily by tiny aphids.

"We thought we would succeed with eradication by 2010, but we keep finding more of it in unexpected places. We hope to eventually get rid of it. We need to remain flexible in our approach and continue working closely with our partners."

A love affair with plants

Violet's love affair with plant health began in university, where she earned a degree in horticulture. She began her career as a plant protection inspector in 1982. In the early 1990s a government program offered her a chance to earn a Master's degree in plant science, which she completed while continuing her work as a plant protection program officer.

"Plant inspection is an ideal job because the work is varied and a lot of it is outdoors," says Violet. "My approach for success is simple - continue learning. You must always stay at the top of your field."