Researchers at Wageningen University and Research Centre have found that the application of vinasse can reduce the formation of apple scab ascospores by more than 95 per cent.
The Wageningen researchers of the institutes Applied Plant Research (PPO) and Plant Research International (PRI) also found vinasse to considerably stimulate leaf degradation during winter.
This could have important implications for the organic industry, which has continued to escalate as consumers embrace what they consider to be healthier eating habits.
Indeed, the European market for organic food is now established as a key growth sector. In the UK for example the market was valued at £1.6bn in 2005, up from £0.8bn in 2000, and this buoyant growth is expected to continue over the next five years.
Organic food sales soared by 30 per cent in Britain last year, according to figures from the pro-organic Soil Association, while AC Nielsen data shows sales for supermarket Sainsburys' organic range up 18.4 per cent year on year.
A Datamonitor survey also found that German consumers (66 per cent) are most likely to buy into the notion that eating organic food and drinks is important in maintaining a healthy diet. It is therefore no co-incidence that the German market - valued at £3.5bn in 2005 - is also the most developed in Europe.
However, organic growers in Europe largely depend on copper, sulphur and lime sulphur to fight apple scab in spring and summer. The problem for organic producers is that copper is no longer allowed in the Netherlands for this purpose, and the European Commission has decided to ban the use of copper throughout Europe.
The elimination through vinasse of apple scab, which is caused by a fungus (Venturia inaequalis) and is a major economic problem in all apple growing areas, would therefore help the apple industry tap growing demand for organic produce. This is the aim of the study, which was carried out in the context of the EU project REPCO (Replacement of Copper in Organic Production of Grapevine and Apple in Europe).
"These sanitation practices help to reduce the use of copper in spring," said the Wageningen researchers.
In addition, fruits such as apples are increasingly being recognised by consumers as offering numerous health benefits. According to market analyst Mintel, apple juice consumption is on the up, with sales in the UK up 43 per cent between 2003 and 2006, from 95 to 136 million litres.
Apple juice contains polyphenols, which are receiving extensive research due to their potent antioxidant activity, their ability to mop-up harmful free radicals, and the associated health benefits.