High pear yield signals concept orchard success

East Malling trial reveals value of drip irrigation and fertigation techniques in increasing home-grown fruit production.


High-intensity and Dutch-style technology can arrest the decline in UK pear production, according to researchers at East Malling.

The claim follows a bumper crop from a trial orchard planted only two-and-a-half years ago.

The Concept Pear Orchard, developed with Sainsbury's by Chingford Fruit, part of AG Thames, in partnership with East Malling Limited (EML), has yielded 22 tonnes from a single hectare in only its second harvest. The fruit is 97-98 per cent class 1.

This contrasts with a traditionally planted and managed pear orchard, which can take 10 to 15 years to mature and produce an average of around 14 tonnes of fruit per hectare with just 78-80 per cent being class 1.

EML chief executive Adrian Padfield said: "This shows that there is a strong commercial case for investing in intensive pear production and adopting the techniques used by the estate team at East Malling."

EML aims to replicate the performance on a larger scale in a 7ha orchard of Sweet Sensation pears established earlier this year with AG Thames, he added.

East Malling Research head of science Chris Atkinson said the crop had coped with the best and worst of the season's weather.

"Last winter's chill helped the development of the fruit bud and the above average spring temperatures produced a good fruit set," he explained.

"Using drip irrigation and fertigation delivering water and nutrients to the trees, the orchard has been able to handle the year's weather, particularly the early dry conditions, and still produce high-quality fruit."

After harvesting, the pears were put into cold store before being packed and dispatched to Sainsbury's stores across the UK.

Currently, only 12,500 tonnes of pears sold in the UK are British-grown. But growers could raise this to 36,000 tonnes on the same area by adopting the new techniques, EML claimed.

Second trial aims to demonstrate benefits of investment

"We wanted to play our part in informing, educating and, we hope, inspiring UK growers to invest in new orchards.

"We are showing that there is the ability to increase productivity as well as exceed the traditional levels of quality, to provide a sustainable future for the UK grower and also help to satisfy growing consumer demand for home-grown fruit."

Francis Wheatley, technical manager, AG Thames.

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