Good fruit grower - pears

Interesting articles on pears
California is growing less pears all the time according to experts so someone will need to grow them

" A pathway for pears

WSU’s Musacchi says two-leader plantings can give pear growers the long-awaited benefits of higher density production today.

February 1st 2021 Issue

Kate Prengaman, TJ Mullinax // February 11, 2021

Tory Schmidt strolls between a higher-density pear block and a traditional Bartlett planting in July 2020 at a Stemilt Growers orchard in North Central Washington. The project manager for the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission organized a virtual field day at the new block to show opportunities for pear growers to achieve more efficient and economical production systems today.(Kate Prengaman/Good Fruit Grower)

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Pear growers seeking to modernize plantings don’t need to wait another decade for dwarfing quince rootstocks suitable for the Pacific Northwest to dabble in high density. By planting Bartletts in a two-leader system, Stemilt Growers of Wenatchee, Washington, created a pear block that resembles a 3-by-12 apple system in its fourth leaf.

“Bi-axis trees or a multileader tree is a nice way to divide the vigor,” said Stefano Musacchi, Washington State University endowed chair for tree fruit physiology, who advised Stemilt on the planting. “In this case, the root system is competing, because they are closer, and there’s more light interception so the system can be more efficient in improving the quality of the fruit.”

Stemilt hopes the system offers labor efficiencies and reduces the costs of production, said area manager Bryan Mrachek. The establishment years required intensive tree training, he said, but advantages are already apparent — lower spray bills, better coverage, less hand thinning and an efficient harvest — as the trees come into production.

While few pear growers are renovating orchards — waiting for new rootstocks, new cultivars or improving cash flows — Musacchi encouraged growers to consider planting medium-density trials such as Stemilt’s two-leader block to learn how to irrigate, fertilize, prune and train such different trees.

“The bi-axis now on existing rootstocks can be a learning stage for approaching high density later on,” he said. “If you establish a new orchard, try something different. I don’t want to push people out of their comfort zones, but the world is changing and what was good 80 years ago doesn’t mean it is good today.”

By training Bartlett pears on a two-leader system, growers can plant at higher density on standard rootstocks, such as this experimental Stemilt Growers block near Chelan Falls, planted on OHxF 97 that spaces a leader every 3 feet. But while it may look like an apple block at 3 feet by 12 feet, the pruning and training for pears is quite different, said Stemilt area manager Bryan Mrachek.(Kate Prengaman/Good Fruit Grower.)

Training trees and crews

Mrachek and orchard manager Jorge Andrade discussed the establishment of the block during a WSU virtual field day last summer, hosted by Tory Schmidt, project manager for the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission. They told Schmidt that they opted for OHxF 97, due to the site’s sandy soils, and spaced the twin-top knipboom trees every 6 feet, with 12-foot rows.

“It’s been a myriad of tree training, click pruning and other things to maximize the breaks,” Mrachek said. “Once you’ve got the vigor in a pear tree, getting it to settle down is not an easy thing to do.”

Click pruning, an approach Musacchi introduced to the Washington pear industry, employs a series of aggressive heading cuts to drive renewal of fruiting wood while maintaining a narrow canopy. Mrachek described it as a cycle that maintains balance in the branches over time: Cutting a branch back to a few buds promotes a strong response and a weak response; pruners then cut back the strong response and head the weak one to keep promoting small, fruitful wood.

Stemilt’s experienced crews quickly got the hang of it, but Mrachek recommended that for newer crews, pruning in two passes will help to simplify the number of rules for them to follow.

They also used hand pruners to score the trees in the first leaf, to promote branching, and applied Promalin (gibberellic acids and 6-benzyladenine) in the second leaf. They tied down branches, close to horizontal, to get more fruiting, Mrachek said, and then headed back those branches, selecting for a top bud.

Stemilt’s Bryan Mrachek, left, and Jorge Andrade show how these high-density Bartlett trees were tied down to increase fruiting and slow vigor.(TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)

Andrade said his crews like working in the new block compared to the open-center trees.

“We like to use the platforms. We don’t have to use the ladders for tree training or pruning,” he said. “Everything is more easy, it’s more safe, and it’s more cheap.”

Sprayers run faster and apply a lot less product, saving money while still achieving better coverage than in the big trees, Andrade added.

Mrachek expects another savings will come from more effective chemical thinning with MaxCel (6-benzyladenine) in the narrow canopy. “I don’t see the need for much if any hand thinning,” he said. “That’s a big one, too.”

First returns and eyeing ROI

In 2020, the fourth-leaf Bartlett block produced 18 bins per acre — a bit lower than Mrachek was expecting after a June drop. Picking crews flew through the block, he said, but didn’t need to use platforms since most of the crop was in the lower half of the trees.

A third-leaf block produced 8 bins an acre.

“It wasn’t really worth it to grow a crop in the third leaf,” he said in a follow-up interview. He opted to crop the trees, hoping that fruit would slow down the young trees, but not enough fruit stuck to slow them down. And because of the fruit, he couldn’t use Promalin to promote branching.

“It cut into structurally creating a lot of nice branches,” he said.

Growing Bartlett in the two-leader system divides the vigor and increases the precocity, although a lot of training work went into establishing fruitful branches in the lower portion of the trees. The block produced about 18 bins per acre in the fourth leaf, a yield that Stemilt’s Mrachek expects to double each year until it tops out between 60 and 70 bins per acre.(Kate Prengaman/ Good Fruit Grower)

If he had it all to do over, Mrachek said he’d consider planting at 5 feet by 10 feet instead, to reduce the need for time-consuming training in the lower section of the trees, in favor of a simpler fruiting wall architecture

“Over the years, we spent $3,000 to $4,000 an acre on tree training. We could replace that with trees and not spend the labor on it,” he said. “That would simplify establishment, but we don’t know what it would look like once established.”

Now that the fourth-leaf trees have filled their space, he expects the trees to be straightforward to maintain with click pruning and easy to manage organically.

The narrower canopy offers multiple benefits beyond labor efficiency, Musacchi said, with easier pest control and more consistent fruit quality from more uniform trees.

“Many of the issues growers are facing with psylla and fire blight are related to canopies that are difficult to manage,” Musacchi said. “Unfortunately, many growers don’t have the money to replace their orchards right now. It’s like knowing the recipe but not being able to implement it.” •

by Kate Prengaman"

" Record price of $375 per ton set for canning pears is welcome news to start the season

April 15th 2022 Issue

Kate Prengaman // March 10, 2022

Northwest Bartlett pear growers and processors are all going into the 2022 growing season with price negotiations already settled for a record $375 per ton.

“It’s the best news I’ve been able to give pear growers in years,” said B.J. Thurlby, president of the Washington-Oregon Canning Pear Association, which negotiates prices for growers under a federal marketing order with the two major canners. “Getting it negotiated early means growers can farm based on what their income is going to be.”

It’s a welcome change from the past few seasons, when tense negotiations stretched into the summer months, said Adam McCarthy, a Hood River, Oregon, grower and chair of the association.

“There’s two sides of the equation, and I appreciate the processors coming to the table and getting it done early,” he said.

Source: Washington-Oregon Canning Pear Association; Graphic: Jared Johnson/Good Fruit Grower

The landscape of processing pears has changed significantly over the past few years, McCarthy said, with fewer imports coming in from China, lower inventory and lower supply after growers removed acres in response to the low prices in 2019. Also, the school lunch market is recovering.

“Everyone is optimistic we are back on track,” he said.

Enough acreage came out that canners now want to make sure they have the supply available in the ground to meet demand, Thurlby said during a meeting of the Washington State Fruit Commission this week. To help keep growers in business, the negotiators settled on a two-year deal, locking in $395 per ton for 2023.

“This is a good deal for both sides,” said Steve Carlson, field manager for Del Monte, the region’s largest canner. “And we don’t have to worry about it for next year, either.”

The Neil Jones Food Co. of Vancouver, which pulled out of collective negotiations in 2019, also agreed to the two-year deal.

About 65 percent of the Bartlett crop typically meets the highest grade, at 2.5 inches or larger, which will return $394 per ton this year, and $414 per ton next year, Carlson and Thurlby added.

Related:

A deal for canned pears

After the difficult 2019 season, Thurlby and the association gained the support of Washington lawmakers in 2020 to compel the canners to negotiate with the association and set a mediation process if a deal could not be reached.

McCarthy said that legislation has brought more balance to the price discussions, but all parties understand that it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.

For growers, having the price in mind this early in the season allows them to decide how they want to manage their crop load and size targets and make more informed decisions about input costs for pruning, preventative pest management and frost control, McCarthy added.

by Kate Prengaman"

We continue to watch this unfold

"New Canadian pear varieties are fire blight tolerantBack in (pear) business

June 2017 Issue

Kate Prengaman // June 29, 2017

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Growers hope Cold Snap pears, shown here in an Ontario orchard in 2016, can restart the Canadian pear industry thanks to their fire blight tolerance and high-density production. (Courtesy Vineland Growers Cooperative)

A decade after a processing plant closed and persistent fire blight problems pushed many Ontario growers out of the pear business, there’s a new excitement about pears in Canada.

The reason: a handful of new varieties that offer fire blight resistance, cold hardiness and high-density production are re-energizing the industry.

Last winter, 20,000 cases of Cold Snap pears were sold to Ontario retailers, said Matt Ecker, sales and business development manager for the Vineland Growers Cooperative, which has the exclusive rights to grow and market the pear in Canada.

Over 80,000 trees have been planted in Ontario and Nova Scotia by about 25 growers, he said.

“It’s was a great opportunity for us to showcase a Canadian grown pear. We marketed it from the last week of November through the start of February, when we ran out,” Ecker said. “It’s a great tasting pear. It’s definitely kick-started our pear industry back here in Ontario.”

Cold Snap

Cold Snap is the marketing program for Harovin Sundown, a pear nearly 40 years in development by now-defunct Harrow breeding program at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s research station in Ontario.

In 2010, the Vineland Innovation and Research Centre — a nonprofit organization aimed at bringing horticultural innovation to Canadian farmers — assumed the license for Harovin Sundown and began the process of commercializing it, said Michael Kauzlaric, the facility’s technology scout and director of grower outreach.

The center also inherited several other promising pears from the breeding program, and two are being released to growers: HW 623 and HW 624.

Kauzlaric said they are hoping to build on the success of Cold Snap by offering cultivars that have wider harvest windows, enabling growers to extend their season, and that provide exciting new varieties to consumers.

All three new pears have good fire blight tolerance and are well-suited to cold Canadian winters, Kauzlaric said. And they are well suited to producing high yields of large fruit in high-density plantings.

That was the key to enticing growers to give the new pears a chance, Ecker said.

“With new planting practices, such as high-density systems, now with these new fire blight tolerant varieties we can improve production,” Ecker said. “It’s a huge plus for our guys having these large pears that require less labor for thinning.”

The Harovin Sundown pears are propagated on Old Home by Farmingdale 87 — a productive and precocious rootstock that also offers fire blight resistance.

Many growers planted it in tall spindle systems like apples, and some are using bi-axis trees to control the tree’s vigor in the absence of a dwarfing rootstock.

The large pears with a yellow background and a red blush ripen in October. Growers are getting more color on the pears produced in the high-density systems, Ecker said.

The Cold Snap name was chosen to emphasize the pear’s market niche as a winter fruit, Kauzlaric said.

“It doesn’t eat great off the tree, it needs to sit in storage,” he said. That creates the opportunity to extend the pear season into the winter months, while most Ontario pears go to market in the fall, he said. The research facility’s consumer insight group helped develop that branding, he added.

The Vineland Growers Cooperative expects to see production increase about 30 percent a year for the next several years as more orchards come into full production. And as these new varieties prove themselves, Ecker expects to see them replace older Bartlett and Bosc orchards.

“These new Harrow varieties are giving our growers hope again,” he said. “The key for our growers here is that they like to diversify their risk, and pears are a good opportunity to expand our offerings.”

And two more

The newest pears, known as HW 623 and HW 624, eat well right off the tree, Kauzlaric said. He described 623 as a Bosc-shaped pear with a long neck and a little bit of blush that resists russetting and has a “buttery” taste. It’s a medium to large sized fruit that is ready to harvest about two weeks after Bartlett.

Vineland Growers Co-op has also licensed HW 623 and is currently planting it in limited quantities, Ecker said. “We walk before we run with these new varieties,” he said. But he said that they expect to plant quite a few new trees in the coming years.

HW 624 is also a medium to large pear that is ready to harvest about 10 days after Bartlett. Kauzlaric described it as “a red blush pear that has a high tolerance to fire blight and to pear psylla, so it’s a two-in-one, and it has good eating quality and a strong cold tolerance as well.”

“Those positive features caught the attention of some U.S. entities as well,” he added.

So these new Canadian pears are expected to make their way to U.S. growers soon. They’ve already found a U.S. partner for production of the 624 pear, but details of the license are still in negotiation, so Kauzlaric declined to name the parties.

“The first trees in Canada will be planted commercially this year,” he said. “In the U.S., a limited amount of trees are being planted, due to the time it’s taken to get the budwood over, but we should be able to finalize the deals and further graft some trees this August.”

As for the Cold Snap pear, Washington-based Brandt’s Fruit Trees has the U.S. propagation license, and the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre is looking for U.S. marketers who want to join the program, Kauzlaric said. •

– by Kate Prengaman"

Just a reminder these are out there now.

" Come on, get Happi

A precocious summer pear with a wide window of eating quality looks to find a spot in the supermarket.

December 2021 Issue

Kate Prengaman // December 29, 2021

A Canadian-bred pear variety, HW 624, awaits harvest in a Quincy, Washington, block in late August. It’s the first commercial harvest for the fruit, marketed as the Happi Pear by Stemilt Growers, which holds the exclusive U.S. license to the pears.(TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)

This fall, Stemilt Growers harvested its first commercial crop of the Happi Pear, launching one of the first proprietary pear marketing campaigns in the U.S.

The launch serves as a test case to see if new varieties can help to reinvigorate a long-lagging category.

“The thing that we got really excited about with Happi is that we would be able to brand a pear and market it differently than pears are marketed,” said Brianna Shales, Stemilt’s marketing director.

Unlike the apple market, the pear category remains dominated by traditional European cultivars, and consumers want to try something new, she said. And managing a proprietary pear allows for controlling quality to build demand for it.

Related:

Growers hope Cold Snap pears, shown here in an Ontario orchard in 2016, can restart the Canadian pear industry thanks to their fire blight tolerance and high-density production. (Courtesy Vineland Growers Cooperative)New Canadian pear varieties are fire blight tolerant

The pear itself is not so new. The cultivar, HW 624, was bred decades ago by the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada breeding program in Harrow, Ontario, which also produced several fire blight-resistant cultivars, including Harrow Sweet, Harrow Crisp and the Harovin Sundown, now marketed as Cold Snap. In 2013, the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre inherited the breeding program’s advance selections and began to explore opportunities for commercialization. Cold Snap began commercial promotions in Canada about five years ago, and another pear, HW 623, or Dewdrop, is under development.

“This is Canadian-bred fruit we want to showcase around the world,” said Ian Potter, Vineland’s CEO. The center also has thousands of apple selections in its breeding program, but new pears have a better opportunity to break into a less-crowded marketplace, he said. “There’s a gap on store shelves of the quality people will buy again and again. I think Cold Snap is one, Happi is definitely one, and we’re looking at if Dewdrop might be one, too.”

Vineland relies on market intelligence as it develops new varieties, Potter said, and the consistent quality, flavor and texture help the Happi Pear stand out.

“I’ve had a love-hate relationship with pears in the past, because they turn into mush,” he said. “I’ve never had a bad one of these.”

Related:

Pear breeding north of the border

Happi Pear counts as a grandparent the Bartlett, which has a narrow window of perfect eating quality. However, Happi offers more flexibility.

“The other thing that’s really exciting is that you can eat it when it’s green and firm, because it’s sweet and flavorful, or eat it when it’s soft and yellow,” Shales said. “There’s nothing worse than a consumer coming home, waiting to eat something, and they have a bad experience.”

The texture is just a little different from Bartlett, firmer even when soft, and the sweet flavor has a hint of lemon, she added.

So far, the reception has been good, Shales said. With just 260 bins to market this year, Stemilt opted to work with a few smaller retailers to test introductions of the Happi Pear and its bright, playful purple branding.

The variety offers horticultural advantages, too, said Rob Blakey, Stemilt’s research and development director who runs extensive variety trials for the company. It has tolerance to some key pests, grows well in higher-density plantings, around 900 trees per acre, he said, and is pretty precocious.

“You don’t have to plant pears for your heirs. You can crop it like an apple, which is pretty exciting,” Blakey said. “Looking at the economics, it makes a big difference to get the orchard cropping early.”

Like a lot of other Harrow pears, Happi Pear is fire blight tolerant. It’s not resistant, but infections are less common, and strikes that do occur don’t run and spread. The cultivar also appears to be psylla tolerant, although the mechanism isn’t fully understood yet, Blakey said.

Blakey and Shales were circumspect about Stemilt’s plans to grow the program, but if growers are interested, Blakey encouraged them to reach out.

Related:

New pear is twice as nice

“We’re cautious, but we’re excited about it,” he said. Introducing a new pear may be a difficult proposition. “But people love good eating pears. We just have to deliver good eating pears to grow the category.”

And by and large, the pear industry is doing that with better handling of existing cultivars, he said. He sees this new branded program as part of the industrywide effort to deliver better pears to consumers and rebuild a reputation for consistent quality.

While Stemilt holds the exclusive U.S. license, Canadian growers are planting HW 624 trees as well, Potter said, and will market them under the same Happi Pear brand that Vineland and Stemilt developed together. Vineland is also working on commercializing the variety beyond North America.

by Kate Prengaman"

Looking for high yields or large fruit pay attention

" Proving pear density

High-density systems can boost Bartlett productivity, according to trials from California’s North Coast.

February 1st 2022 Issue

Ross Courtney, TJ Mullinax // February 3, 2022

Rachel Elkins, semiretired University of California Cooperative Extension pomology advisor, has nearly finished 10 years of observations on a Bartlett pear trial in California’s North Coast region. Shown in August, Elkins collected data on three systems, three rootstocks and three spacings.(TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)

Editor’s note: This story has been edited to remove incorrect information included in the original version. Elkins did not split the bi-axis trial in two with different crotch heights, as reported in the February 1 print issue.

Related:

Fog, fruit and an unclear future

Though pear growers in the North Coast region of California may struggle to justify the expense of high-density, trellised systems, Rachel Elkins has nearly 30 years of research to help them navigate if they ever take the leap.

Elkins, a semiretired pomology farm advisor for the University of California Cooperative Extension, recently shared insights from nine of 10 years of her second NC-140 high-density Bartlett pear trial in Mendocino County. NC-140 is a group of tree fruit horticulturists who cooperate on rootstock trials at replicated sites across the U.S.

Growers in Mendocino County and neighboring Lake County, beleaguered by labor shortages, processor consolidation and a shifting climate, generally believe trellised orchards on size-controlling rootstocks are the way forward. Uncertainties in the market make them hesitant, but Elkins’ data should help them decide how to select their own best practices if the time is right, she said.

“The purpose of these 10-year trials is to learn if and how high-density systems employed in other fruit crops, primarily apples, could be employed to hasten precocity, and hence profitability, in pear, especially given increasing labor cost and scarcity and increasing management costs and regulations,” she said. The answer is yes, through a variety of techniques she spent the last nine years fine-tuning.

The rootstock Pyro 2-33 started slowly, Elkins said, but over time best filled its space and produced the largest fruit, a critical trait for the California pear industry.(TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)

Her latest trial, planted in 2013, compares three treatments in four categories. Training systems are V-trellis; a two-leader system with nursery-budded leaders at the base, which she calls bi-axis; a two-leader system created by standard heading in the field; and tall spindle. Rootstocks are Old Home by Farmingdale 87, OHF 69 and Pyro 2-33. Tree spacings are 3 feet, 4.5 feet and 6 feet.

The trial was replicated, without the two-leader training and with other cultivars, by other researchers in Geneva, New York, and Hood River, Oregon. The Hood River site was removed in 2018 due to fire blight and winter injury.

Here is a look at some of Elkins’ key findings from this trial at the Mendocino County site:

—Training systems made the biggest and most consistent difference in tree growth and production, followed by rootstocks, then spacing.

—V-trellis trees filled their space, generally produced the largest fruit without sacrificing yield and had the highest yield efficiency. A V-trellis system also tamed into two dimensions easier than the bi-axis and tall spindle. “It’s a system I think you can easily teach people how to do,” she said.

—V-trellis and tall spindle trees were the easiest to train and produced the most fruit and highest yield, though tall spindle fruit produced smaller fruit than V-trellis. The bi-axis approach required the most retraining for a two-dimensional canopy.

Elkins favors V-trellis for its balance of vigor and fruit production. Yields were higher without sacrificing fruit size, according to her data.(TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)

—When pruning, select buds closest to the primary wood and oriented parallel to the trellis to get the best crop load support and prevent shading, bruising and sunburn. It also helps to keep the system two-dimensional. Remove bottom buds and keep branches a foot apart to avoid bruising lower fruit.

—Pyro 2-33 produced the lowest yields in early years, due to vigor, but increased as trees matured. It also grew the largest fruit, a critical trait for the California market.

—OHF 87 showed the overall highest yield efficiency, but fruit size and yield have decreased due to lower vigor than the other two rootstocks. (Though not in this trial, Old Home by Farmingdale 97 produces larger fruit than OHF 87 in North Coast conditions. The most common commercial pear rootstock in the region is Betulaefolia, a vigorous, deep-rooted and relatively replant-tolerant rootstock for flood-prone soil.)

—Six-foot spacing produced the highest yields, 3-foot spacing the lowest.

Elkins is still evaluating results for 2021, a historically hot year that produced unusually small fruit throughout the region, but the trends and lessons held — as far as she can tell from her early analysis. “We learned a lot this year,” she said.

Elkins keeps horticultural maintenance simple for herself and growers who may want to try their own trellises. She prunes only in the spring and early summer to check vigor and strategically remove foliage. She carries only clothespins for training and hand shears, rarely loppers, and she often uses just her hands, ripping out shoots instead of cutting them. She makes only thinning cuts, never heading cuts.

This tip-bearing Bartlett branch got away from Elkins, but she recommends avoiding this situation in the first place by pruning buds growing toward the center of the row and leaving parallel buds. The outgrowing buds not only ruin the two-dimensional shape, they are weaker than the parallel buds.(TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)

She has few support staff or students to help her. Growers lack labor, too, which makes in-season pruning an extra challenge. “We don’t have people for fine work such as notching,” she said.

Elkins is not trying to prescribe the single best combination of training system, rootstock and spacing. Growers will have to make those decisions based on the knowledge of their own farm.

But she believes the lessons will apply to pear growers in other areas.

“I don’t see why not,” she said.

—by Ross Courtney"

Anjou is still huge just like Bartlett and bosc

" Pear family planning lifts local industry

When a family of pear farmers built their own packing line, they also built up the industry around them.

January 15th 2022 Issue

Jonelle Mejica // January 25, 2022

Green Anjou pears running on Day’s Century Growers’ packing line in October. To have more control over their fruit quality and returns, the Day family invested in a state-of-the-art packing line with the first pear-specific optical sorter installed in Canada.(Courtesy Kevin Day/Day’s Century Growers)

As their name implies, Day’s Century Growers in downtown Kelowna has a long history in British Columbia’s agricultural community. The Okanagan Valley property has been farmed by the Day family since the late 1800s, and three generations of the family currently operate the farm together.

When facing an uncertain future for their pear crop a decade ago, the family took a leap of faith and built their own pear packing facility. Three years ago, they doubled down with new technology, and since then they’ve found that their innovative spirit is also bringing new hope to others in the local pear industry.

“Pears have always been our main thing, but it’s been a real struggle,” said Kevin Day, who co-owns the farm with his sister, Karen Day. Their father, Ernie Day, purchased the farm from his uncle in 1954.

Related:

Video: IFTA members visit century-old farm

The first pear orchard was planted on their family farm in the 1920s. Today they grow green and red Anjou, Bartlett, Bosc and a few Harrow Crisp pears, along with a variety of vegetables and sweet corn. Over the years they’ve added a wood lot and generated logging revenues, built up the cattle herd and began direct sales of their produce at their farm market.

“It was all a means to diversify and have income to keep things rolling,” Kevin said.

But by 2011, they could see that with the returns received from the local cooperative, BC Tree Fruits, their pear business was still not viable. “It was unsustainable to us, so it was either sell a little bit of our heritage land or change our direction,” Kevin said.

In 2012, after running all the numbers, they decided to build a packing house and storage space on their farm. “We were spending a lot of money on the building and the cooling, so we kind of low-balled on our packing machine,” Kevin said. The original two-lane equipment helped them meet their goal to improve control over their quality and costs, but it was “very low-tech” and had too many height transitions — which meant more scuffing and rougher handling of the fruit, especially later in the season, he said.

So, in 2019 they installed a three-lane Van Wamel Perfect Uni-Grader with a Burg unloader and an Ellips optical sorting system — all manufactured in the Netherlands specifically for pears.

“I don’t think there’s a machine in the world that handles pears any more gently,” Kevin said.

When they built their packing facility, they also contracted with Consolidated Fruit Packers, owned by Star Produce, to market their pears. The new partnership offered the opportunity to begin conditioning their Anjous in Star’s Galaxy warehouse in Calgary, Alberta.

Four generations of the Day family on their farm in Kelowna, British Columbia. Left to right: Joshua Holland, Kati Day-Holland, Riley Johnson, Erin Day-Johnson, Ernie Day, Sam Fincham, Lily Avery, Jackson Fincham, Kolton Fincham, Tracy Avery Day, Kevin Day and Karen Day. Kati worked with the B.C. Investment Agriculture Foundation to help the family install a high-tech pear packing line on their farm in 2019. “Watching our family step into this next chapter brings so much joy and excitement for what this next part of the journey brings,” she said.(Courtesy Andrew Barton)

More pears, more profits

Canada produces roughly 15 percent of the pears it consumes, and most of that volume is grown in the Benvoulin area — within a few miles of Day’s Century Growers. The Days’ farm is the second largest pear producer in British Columbia, and with their packing line expansion and upgrade, Kevin said his goal was to pack even more.

Allen Reid has been bringing his pears to the Days’ packing line for the past nine years. Reid owns Hazeldell Orchards, the third largest pear grower in the area. The farm originally had some hazelnut trees on it, thus the name, and in the past has supported a diverse operation, but the land is now completely planted in fruit trees.

“In my opinion, it’s some of the best pear-growing soil in B.C.,” Reid said.

After many years of low returns on his pears, Reid said he had thoughts of selling the family farm, purchased by his grandparents in 1903. But with his pear profits increasing every year since 2013, he has hope.

“I now see a good future for the pears grown in the Benvoulin area,” he said. “Maybe one of our four kids or seven grandkids might be farming our orchard for years to come.”

Offering the best pear-packing system available in the area, Day’s Century Growers has the capacity to run up to 10,000 bins in a season. “I wouldn’t want to do any more than that, and there isn’t that much in B.C.,” Kevin said.

The local cooperative focuses on apples and recently opted to separate its growers’ apple and pear contracts, giving them the option to pack their pears with the Days’ new technology, Kevin said.

“We will be packing probably close to 2,000 bins of Bartletts (this fall) and probably 6,000 of Anjou,” he said. “That will pretty well be all of them.” And with that, Kevin said he needs to add another line and more storage.

Workers tray-pack green Anjous on the Days’ pear packing line in October 2021. Full boxes are placed on the conveyor behind them and then go to the labeler, taper and palletizer before heading into cold storage. The green conveyor line to the right goes to the bagging machine, and the orange line at the top carries lower-grade fruit away from the optical sorter.(Courtesy Kevin Day/Day’s Century Growers)

Another Day

About a mile down the road from Day’s Century Growers is the province’s largest pear grower: Kalsam Orchards, co-owned by Kevin’s cousin, Steve Day.

“I think it’s a good fit to consolidate some of our pear operations in the valley,” Steve said. “We’re neighbors — and we are related. Sometimes we admit it, sometimes we don’t.”

Steve’s brother, Mike Day, co-owns and operates the farm with him. His son, Gavin, recently started working full time in the orchard after earning a degree in business management. Steve’s wife, Dawna, and his mom, Ann, are also involved with the farm.

They have about 60 acres of pears — primarily Anjou and Bartlett. They also have about 60 acres of apples, but Steve likes the stability with pear varieties. “You’re not constantly replanting and chasing varieties like you do in the apple arena,” he said.

2021 was the first year he brought his Anjous to Kevin to pack and sell. This year he’ll also bring his Bartletts.

While Kevin proceeds with a line expansion, Steve will build a small controlled-atmosphere storage building on his farm, he said. His decision to leave the co-op was made with sustainability in mind.

“It was a big deal to have someone that was really focused on the future for our Anjou crop,” Steve said. “Bartletts are a great seller, and people like buying Bartletts. If we can get that interest generated around the preconditioned Anjou, Anjous can be very profitable as well.”

Stable and increasing

As in other pear-growing regions, pear acreage in British Columbia has generally declined in recent years, but for the growers bringing their fruit to his new line — that acreage is “stable and increasing,” Kevin said.

With the additional packing volume coming from other growers, he isn’t planning to expand his own acreage.

“We have young blocks coming along, but we made the call for our farm that we’re going to maintain our volume as it is,” he said, though they are looking at some different varieties and have a shared hope for a dwarfing rootstock that will survive their winters.

Some of the 2021 Bosc crop growing at Day’s Century Growers in the fertile Benvoulin area of Kelowna, British Columbia.(Courtesy Kevin Day/Day’s Century Growers)

Overall, Kevin is happy with the pears he can produce in the region.

“On my Bartletts, in one block I got 72 bins an acre on 16 by 7 1/2,” Kevin said. “For Bartletts, for our area, that’s unheard of.” In some of his newer Anjou blocks, he’s had over 90 bins an acre, “but I always will have around 70,” he said.

And he’s very happy with their decision to invest in the packing facility — and the future he sees for the local pear industry. He’s not the only one.

“It’s exciting with a bit of change going on, and change kind of invigorates you,” Steve said. “Kevin and Karen’s thought for going out on their own in 2012 was because they had the nicest pears in the valley, and they wanted to make sure they were getting the benefit from that.”

That leap of faith turned out to be a benefit for other local pear growers, too.

by Jonelle Mejica"

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Lots…a semester’s worth of pear learning there.

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It makes sense that pear orchards are in decline once you learn about production. According to a fruit yield article on Stark Bros a standard apple tree will produce 20 bushels of apples while a standard pear tree will produce 6 bushels. For whatever reason apples are very high on production though. Cherries will produce 60 quarts or something like 3 or 4 bushels of cherries for a standard tree but they charge a high price. Some of those articles make a lot of sense. Canning has gone up a lot. I remember canning jars have gone up from cents to a few dollars in the last few years. It makes you think about how pears like cascade that supposedly keep upwards of something like 8 months are going to be more important as time goes on.

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