Intensive production key for pear growers

Pear growers need to fast-track the move to intensive production methods to grind out more productivity, say top fruit experts.

Farm Advisory Services Team managing director Tim Biddlecombe told delegates at a pear day held at East Malling Research (EMR) earlier this month that the key to success was to forget planting 1,000 to 1,200 trees per hectare and cram each with 3,000.

"Once you have made the decision to go that intensive you can look closely at different types of planting such as v-hedges and spindle systems, increase trees per hectare, put them on better soil and have water available."

James Simpson, managing director of Adrian Scripps, said his 89ha of land dedicated to pears were planted with up to 2,500 trees, which was "probably not enough and we will have to look at a more intensive system".

The key to profitability, however, was the percentage of class 1-quality fruit, which "affects everything".

"Yield is important but quality is king," he told last week's EMR pear conference. "Some 54 per cent of the profit we make on our class 1 crop is eroded by the loss we make on our class 2. A big crop of poor-quality pears will make you big losses. A smaller crop of good-quality pears stands a better chance of making a reasonable profit. Quality is fundamental to our business."

Adrian Scripps boasted a five-year average yield of 26,800kg/ha. Pear growing had evolved from a model of single-row deep-planted trees with no irrigation and heavy-handed mechanical treatment with trimmers and compressors.

Today, two-year-old trees - not whips - were shallow planted on trellis and canes and treated with compost, fertiliser, weed controls and growth stimulants. Fruit was larger and had better skins because distribution on the tree was better.

"We take out every orchard that does not muster. Improving yields is key and the adage about 'pears for your heirs' holds true."

Fruit consultant Wouter van Teeffelen said: "Don't try to compare England with elsewhere in the world because of differences in climate, soils, water availability, financial structures, marketing and consumers."

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