Pears

24.05.17

Pears (Pyrus sp.) are medium sized, deciduous trees native to coastal and mildly temperate regions of western Europe, North Africa, and extending east across parts of Asia. The two main types of pear cultivated around the world are the European pear (Pyrus communis L) and the Asian pear or ‘nashi’ (Pyrus pyrifolia).

Different varieties of pear appeal to different tastes and are suited to different uses, from eating fresh to cooking or canning.

Overview

The pear fruit generally have the distinctive ‘pear shape’, technically referred to as pyriform (a narrow stem area and full bulbous-like base); however, the nashi generally has a more spherical shape.

Skin colour of the fruit varies between varieties and may be smooth yellow, green or red, or may exhibit colours ranging from tan to brown and a rough texture. Both the European and Asian pear types grow easily and produce sweet and juicy fruit.

Pears are also referred to as a pome fruit which is characterised by a core of several small seeds surrounded by a tough membrane. All pome fruits are members of the plant family Rosaceae and include apples and quinces.

Australians consume around 3.2kg of fresh pears per person per year with about 60% of Australian pear production consumed as fresh fruit and most of the remainder used for processing into juice and other products. Pears are generally grown in the same regions as apples and have similar agronomic requirements. Pears of one variety or another are generally available throughout the year, with the majority of varieties available from March to November.

The pear industry is relatively stable in Australia, with almost all of production consumed domestically. Combined, the apple and pear industry is the largest fruit industry in Australia. Australia is a minor exporter of pears with around 16.5% of production exported overseas to New Zealand, Indonesia, Canada, Hong Kong and Singapore. The industry hopes to grow the export of pears to 20%.

The representative body for pear growers in Australia is Apple and Pear Australia Limited who provide support to growers through providing tools and market opportunities to assist industry growth and increase competitiveness of growers. 

Horticulture Innovation Australia invests in and manages research, development and marketing programs for pears. The pear industry is levied and HAL receives matched funding from the Commonwealth Government up to 0.5% of the industry’s GDP or the industry contribution which goes to funding for research and development.

Facts and figures

  • Australia produces on average just over 100,000 tonnes of pears a year with almost all of this consumed domestically
  • The most commonly grown variety of pear in Australia is ‘William’s Bon Chrétien’ which is used mainly for processing
  • Intensive orchard systems require planning and can have extensive establishment costs but can reach first commercial harvest within 2-3 years
  • Orchard grown fruit require reliable access to good quality water for irrigation

Production status

The majority of production is in Victoria which produces about 89% of total production, followed by South Australia at about 5%, Tasmania at 4%, and New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia produce about 1% each.

The number of pear growers has declined since 2000 which is believed to indicate a consolidation where smaller scale growers are leaving the industry and medium and large scale growers are taking over their production.

 - image

Map of potential and current growing regions

Uses

Pears are commonly consumed fresh and used in savoury and baked dishes. Pears are also processed for tinned fruit and juice.

Pears are high in fibre, potassium and a range of vitamins including thiamine, riboflavin and vitamin C.

Production Requirements

Growing regions

Pears can be grown in all states and territories of Australia but the main commercial production regions are:

New South Wales – Orange and Batlow

Queensland – Stanthorpe

South Australia – Adelaide Hills

Tasmania – Huon Valley

Victoria – Goulburn Valley and Melbourne Metro East

Western Australia – Perth Hills and Donnybrook

These regions have summer temperatures ranging from around 10-32°C and winter temperatures ranging from around 3-15°C; rainfall is relatively evenly spread throughout the year but can be erratic, therefore irrigation is generally required.

Soil type

Pear trees prefer clay textured soils – clay loam, silty clay loams or sandy clay loams – with a pH of 6.0 to 6.5.  Acidic soils will need to be amended with an application of lime prior to planting.

Soils needs to be free draining with a good capacity to hold moisture and nutrients and have a soil profile of at least 60cm of good quality soil to allow for healthy root growth. Mounding of topsoil may be required to achieve this topsoil depth.

Climate

Pear trees require cool winters and warm summers. The major growing regions in Australia have summer temperatures ranging from around 10-32°C and winter temperatures ranging from around 3-15°C.

Pears, as with many fruit trees, require a period of winter cold to break the tree’s dormancy which is measured at a certain number of hours below 7°C and referred to as the chilling requirement. The exact number of hours will depend on the variety, but pears generally require somewhere in the range of 500-1,500 hours below 7°C.

It is important to determine what the number of chilling hours is at the intended site in order to select the most suitable variety. Inadequate chilling can result in death of the flower buds, bud shed, erratic flowering, poor fruit set and poor fruit size. If the chilling requirement is satisfied too soon, then the tree may fruit too soon and be susceptible to late frosts. The Department of Environment and Primary Industries Victoria provides a chill unit calculator to assist with estimating winter chill units at a given location.

New pear tree growth is highly susceptible to spring frosts so good air drainage is essential to prevent accumulation of cold air, and installation of frost protection infrastructure may be required.

Access to a water supply, such as dams or an irrigation scheme, is essential to provide the trees water requirements at the key times of year.

Varieties

Pear trees grown for commercial production in Australia are generally of the European varieties (Pyrus communis) grown onto rootstock from the pear genus (P. communis, P. calleryana, P. pyrifolia, P. betulaefolia) or on quince (Cydonia oblonga) rootstock. When sourcing trees it is important to understand the merits of the rootstock from which the trees were produced as they will have different tolerances to soil and alkalinity as well as different fruiting attributes such as size and maturing rate. It is important to source good rootstock and ordering trees from a reputable nursery about two years prior to planting may be necessary.

There are eight varieties of pears grown commercially in Australia:

  1. Beurré Bosc – medium to large size fruit, the flesh is sweet and juicy and is considered one of the best all-rounders for cooking.
  2. Corella Forelle – Small to medium size fruit with juicy, mild flavoured flesh.
  3. Josephine de Malines – medium size fruit, considered one of the best pears for eating fresh.
  4. Packham’s Triumph – medium to large size fruit with white, firm and juicy flesh with a rich flavour.
  5. Red Anjou – medium size fruit with a white, fine textured flesh.
  6. Red Sensation – medium size fruit with a distinctive red and gold skin colour.
  7. Williams’ Bon Chretien – medium size fruit, considered one of the most versatile varieties.
  8. Winter Nelis – small to medium size fruit with a sweet flavour, also known as the Quall or Honey Pear.

Variety selection is based on a number of considerations including: market demand (fruit size, colour, taste), suitability of the variety to environmental conditions (rainfall, elevation, temperature, soil type, chilling requirement), disease tolerance and resistance, and the intended market (fresh, processing, juicing). Beyond environmental and agronomic considerations, there are also business and farm profile/strategy decisions that contribute to the variety selected.

For more information on pear rootstock and varieties, refer to Apple and Pear Australia Limited’s website page on Rootstocks, the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries’ Primefacts note on Pear rootstocks and Agfacts note on European pear varieties.

Planting and crop management

The pear industry in Australia has moved to intensive orchard systems that have densities of up to 8,000 (or more) trees per hectare. Intensive systems provide earlier commercial harvests (from the third year rather than the fourth or fifth), higher yields and easier management. However, they do have higher establishment costs, higher maintenance of young trees and may require additional costs for infrastructure to protect crops from hail and birds.

Site selection is important for pears, as with all fruit tree crops. Factors to consider when selecting a site include: frost risk, north facing aspect, wind and slope. Pear growing regions are often prone to spring frost and sites where cold air is unable to drain should be avoided. North facing aspects are preferable as they capture more sunlight and warmth and are less prone to frost. Windy sites can cause a number of issues including fruit damage, increased evaporation (thus increasing water requirements) and decreased pollination.

Slopes of up to 15% allow for drainage while managing soil erosion, however, slopes any steeper than this pose a major erosion risk and can make accessing the rows with machinery difficult. Sites that have previously grown some fruits may be at risk of replant disease and may need to be treated with a chemical fumigant or pre-cultivated with a bio-fumigant crop (such as brassicas or mustard).

Site preparation may include some or all of the following: installing an irrigation system; removing topsoil and applying lime if the soil is acidic (pH<6.0); cultivating the soil (rotary-hoe, deep ripping) and smoothing the surface; applying gypsum; and growing a green mulch crop (such as ryegrass). Pear trees require at least 60cm of topsoil for healthy root development and mounding of the tree rows may be required if the topsoil is less than one meter deep.

Planting is best done in spring. In an intensive orchard system, an example of a planting layout is four meters between rows, with one meter between trees in the row. If the ground is flat, row widths of 3m are possible which will give a higher density of trees per hectare. Trellis systems are used to support the trees and train the branches.

Pear trees require a range of nutrients and elements from the soil for productive growth and many of these are already in adequate supply in Australian soils. However, there are several that require management: nitrogen, potassium, calcium, zinc, boron and, occasionally, magnesium. Fertilisers are generally delivered through the irrigation system (fertigation). Soil and leaf analysis are recommended to assist with determining nutrient requirements. For more information on pear tree nutrition, refer to the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries Primefacts note on Apple and pear nutrition.

Irrigation needs to be managed to supply the tree’s root system with available soil moisture as the tree loses water through evapotranspiration. As such, the watering requirements will vary depending on the soil type, drainage and weather (temperature). Monitoring for scheduling irrigation is based on three methods: monitoring the tree, the weather or the soil. The use of a soil moisture monitoring system is common as it gives a direct measure of water availability to the tree at the root zone.

Pear trees require pruning and if using a trellis system, training of branches along the wire supports. Trees needs to be pruned to remove unproductive wood and manage vigour and growth.

Pear trees are self-infertile, that is, the flowers need to be pollinated by pollen from another pear tree (cross-pollination). Pollination of fruit trees in Australia is reliant on honey bees and some farmers employ pollination services to increase the numbers of bees pollinating the trees and therefore increase fruit production.

For more information on intensive pear production, refer to the Apple and Pear Australia Limited’s website page on Intensive Pear Production.

Weeds, pests, and diseases

The control of grass and weeds is particularly important for young trees when there is restricted root development. Young trees will suffer during dry periods if competing with grasses and weeds for soil moisture. Weeds are generally managed by mowing and spraying with herbicides.

The main pests that affect pear orchards in Australia are codling moth, fruit fly, helicoverpa, lightbrown apple moth, longtailed mealybug, pear and cherry slug, oriental fruit moth, mites, weavils, aphids and thrips. The main diseases that need to be managed for include scab, scale, apple chlorotic leaf spot virus, apple stem grooving virus, apple stem pitting virus, black spot, phytophthora root, crown rot, powdery mildew, apple mosaic virus, bitter rot, armillaria root rot and white root rot.

Most of these pests and diseases can be reduced or managed with the implementation of an integrated pest and disease management strategy which uses a range of tactics and measures for managing pests and diseases including biological, cultural, chemical, physical and genetic. A strategy will begin at planting and cover the full growth and seasonal cycle of the tree.

Insecticide and fungicide treatments are the most common ways to manage outbreaks. Any chemicals used have to be registered with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) for use in pears and permits may be required; visit the APVMA website more information on specific pesticides and other chemicals.

For more information on pests and diseases in pears and integrated pest and disease management, refer to Integrated Pest Management for Australian apples and pears, Apple and Pear Australia Limited’s website page on Pest and disease management for intensive pear production and the Department of Food and Agriculture Western Australia website page on Pome fruit.

Infrastructure Requirements

The infrastructure requirements for establishing a pear orchard are similar to those for other tree fruit. Factors to consider include location, water security, labour availability and the complexity of management required.

Basic infrastructure and operating equipment may include:

  • Trees
  • Irrigation infrastructure and controller
  • Tractor
  • Orchard sprayer
  • Herbicide sprayer
  • Slasher
  • Forklift
  • Bulk bins & bin trailers
  • Trellising
  • Ladders
  • Pruning equipment
  • Netting (shade, hail and bird)
  • Fertigation tank and injector
  • Machinery shed
  • Grading and packing machinery
  • Coolrooms, CA, forced air or hydro cooling

Harvesting & Processing

Pears of one variety or another are generally available throughout the year in Australia, with the majority available from March to November, so although the main harvesting period is from February to October, it will depend on the variety grown. Asian pear varieties, more commonly known as Nashi, typically ripen on the tree while European varieties need to be picked when they are ‘mature’ but unripe and stored at low temperature to trigger correct ripening.

There are various indicators that can be used to determine pear maturity but the two most commonly used indicators in the Australian industry are flesh firmness and total soluble solids (TSS). Standards have been developed to guide growers for Williams, Beurre Bosc and Packham pears. Starch content can also be used to determine maturity but is less common in the industry. For more information on maturity standards and measurement, refer to the Apple and Pear Australia Limited’s website page on Harvest maturity.

Pears are harvested by hand using seasonal labour. Pickers wear bags or sacks which are filled then emptied into crates or bins which are then hauled by tractors to packing sheds or cool rooms ready for packing and delivery to markets. Growers generally transport the fruit to buyers (processors, distributors) using their own trucks.

Once harvested, European pear varieties need to be cooled and/or treated with ethylene to soften and develop the fruit flavour (ripen). Depending on the variety, cool storage will be required for one to 12 weeks at -1 to 0.5°C to trigger ripening. If using an ethylene treatment, this is usually applied at a temperature of 15 to 19°C with a spray solution of 100µl per litre of water. Asian varieties ripen on the tree and therefore only require cool storage to maintain optimum freshness and fruit quality for market.

The optimum storage conditions for maintaining pears in suitable condition for market will depend on the variety. Most pears are well suited to controlled atmosphere (CA) storage at -1°C, 98% relative humidity. Storage at temperatures greater than 0°C tends to cause accelerated softening, yellowing, internal browning and/or mealiness. Some storage facilities control the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels as well as the temperature.

The length of time pears can be stored varies and will also depend on the variety. For example, William’s pears can be stored for four months at 0.5°C, while Packham’s pears can be stored for up to nine months at the same temperature. For more information on ripening and storage of pears, refer to Apple and Pear Australia Limited’s website page on Postharvest handling.

Markets & Marketing

There are a number of options for selling pears and farmers may choose to manage this themselves or sell through cooperatives, agents or grower organisations. The main options for selling are:

  • Direct to supermarkets
  • Direct to processors
  • Direct to restaurants or food service providers
  • Farm gate or farmers markets
  • Through wholesale or export markets

Selling direct to consumers (farm gate, markets, restaurants and food service providers) has the lowest cost and lowest number of constraints, however the volume that can be sold to these markets is lower and requires more time and knowledge to manage the marketing and distribution.

Selling direct to supermarkets, often under contract, provides some surety of income but also requires the producer to meet a number of strict standards. There may also be penalties if the farmers cannot deliver the volume required.

Australia currently exports pears to a number of countries throughout the world including the Canada, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Singapore, and New Zealand. Approximately 16.5% of Australian pear production is exported, the industry is aiming to increase the combined apple and pear exports to 20%. Australia’s reputation for high-quality produce and ability to provide produce during the northern hemisphere off-season are considered the main advantages to driving export growth.

Risks & Regulations

Risks/challenges

For any tree crop there is a lead time from planting to the first commercial harvest and for pears this can be 2-3 years and there may be an additional year or two for planning before planting of any trees (for example, contracting a nursery up to two years prior to planting to grow trees from the desired rootstock).

The main production risks for orchard fruit production include: pollination, pests and diseases and climate factors (drought, frost, hail, wind and heat). Adverse conditions of any of these risks can result in crop loss and reduce the reliability of income.

The availability and quality of fruit on the market in any given season can affect the price received. This can be influenced by new large plantings and climate or pest impacts in key growing regions. Understanding market trends and potential domestic and export markets is essential for planning size, variety and a management strategy of the orchard.

As pears have labour-intensive stages and there are periods where the need for casual labour peaks, in some regions, sourcing reliable casual labour can be a challenge.

Regulatory considerations

Apart from the regulatory considerations that apply to all Australian farms, including laws applying to chemical use and management, occupational health and safety and transport (including machinery movements and the loading / unloading of harvested product), there are no regulations specific to pear operations.

In addition there are a number of regulatory considerations specific to horticultural operations.

Before buying new land to plant orchards, a thorough investigation of the land’s suitability for a horticultural enterprise and it’s cropping or land use history should be undertaken. This may include identifying a history of chemical contamination (and residue levels) as some export licences may be withheld on products grown on land where chemical residues exist.

Potential disease risks should also be investigated. Some disease pathogens can survive in the soil for many years, so information about previous disease outbreaks will assist determining which trees are suitable for planting. This information can generally be obtained from the relevant state planning authority. Growers will also be responsible for regularly inspecting their orchards for notifiable pests and diseases and reporting any incidence to the relevant state agriculture department.

When planting new orchards and establishing additional on-farm infrastructure or access roads, liaison with the state government agencies responsible for planning, native vegetation laws and water licences will be necessary. Some land use applications will also need to be considered by the relevant local government authority.

Horticulture and food production businesses have strict requirements in relation to record keeping, registrations, and accreditations as well associated cost for e.g. quality assurance, food safety, safe use of chemicals, environmental performance and intellectual property. Websites like Freshcare may provide a starting point for understanding these requirements.

Publications

Publications/information

Pollination Aware Case Study – Pear and Nashi RIRDC publication (2010)

Integrated Pest Management for Australian apples and pears

Intensive Pear Production – Apple and Pear Australia Limited

Apple and pear nutrition – New South Wales Department of Primary Industries Primefacts note

Pear rootstocks – New South Wales Department of Primary Industries Primefacts note

European pear varieties – New South Wales Department of Primary Industries Agfacts note

Other resources

Apples, Pears and other pome fruit – New South Wales Department of Primary Industries

Pome fruit – Department of Environment and Primary Industries Victoria

Pome fruit – Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia

Chill unit calculator – Department of Environment and Primary Industries Victoria

Freshcare

Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority

Image Gallery

 - image

Pears growing on tree

 - image

Beurre Bosc Pears

 - image

Pears ready for sale at markets

 - image

Nashi or Asian Pear