More pears are being produced on the rainy eastern side of North America, and the big reason is that growers can plant a nice Bartlett-like variety that is virtually immune to fire blight.
The new production is taking place in Canada—the two provinces of Ontario and Nova Scotia—where the variety Harovin Sundown is being grown by a half-dozen growers and marketed as a club variety.
The club members are following the advice of New York’s Dr. Terence Robinson, the Cornell University horticulturist. He says growers should be able to use the same high-density system they use for tall spindle apples—close spacing, simple trellises, renewal pruning—even without having dwarfing rootstocks.
And, in Canada, that’s what they’re doing.
The trees are being produced exclusively in the Mori Essex Nursery and can be planted only by members of the Vineland Growers Cooperative in Ontario or those
subcontracted through the Scotian Gold Cooperative in Coldbrook, Nova Scotia.
One of the growers is John Thwaites, who in the last four years has grown from “no pears at all” to about 34 acres of Harovin Sundown punctuated with some Bosc and Harrow Crisp as pollinizers.
Asked what role fire blight resistance played in his decision, he answered, “that was it.” He had never grown pears before—his 400-acre farm near Niagara-on-the-Lake comprised peaches, vinifera grapes, and 100 acres of asparagus.
“When we saw these pears that were fire blight-resistant, we thought this would be a good way to extend our packing season into the fall,” he said. With wife, Jocelyn, and sons, Graham, Nelson, and Corbin, on the farm, they were expansion-minded, and diversification seemed a good idea.
Thwaites Farms has cold storage and a packing line for peaches that will handle the pears, with marketing done by Michael Ecker at Vineland Growers Cooperative. In May 2010, Ecker, president of the 300-member Vineland Growers Cooperative that markets peaches, nectarines, pears, sweet cherries, apricots, plums, and fresh grapes, bought exclusive rights to grow and market the pear from Ontario east across Quebec and the Maritime Provinces.
Vineland Research and Innovation Centre owns rights to the pear, which was bred there by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada scientists. The cross was made in 1972 by Harvey Quamme, and the variety was released by David Hunter in 2009.
“It’s a nice pear,” Thwaites said. “It looks like a Bartlett—just a little bigger and bit stockier. A few shoots will develop fire blight—you see a few on twigs or branches—but it does not spread. The tree is able to stop it.”
The rootstock on which it’s being grown—Old Home by Farmingdale 97—is also resistant to fire blight, as well as being productive and precocious.
Thwaites began planting four years ago. “No trees were available at first, so we grew our own for use on the farm. During the process, we did more research and saw Terence Robinson’s work and decided to go with high density.”
So he began planting trees 3.5 feet apart in rows 12 feet apart on “a simple three-wire trellis on ten-foot posts.”
The last six acres, however, are biaxis trees, planted 4.5 feet apart. They have two trunks trained from a single root, a method to reduce vigor in the absence of dwarfing rootstocks and also reduce per-acre tree cost.
“They store really well and respond to the whole SmartFresh regime,” he added.
John Fedorkow, a neighbor of Thwaites, four years ago planted three more acres of Sundown in a high-density system using single axis trees in a 3- by 12-foot planting, but he’s got a lot more experience with the variety. He planted trees already in 1997 when it was an experimental variety being tested by growers.
“I have never sprayed Sundown to control fire blight—never,” he said.
In his test plantings one year, he lost all the Bartletts and not one Sundown or Harrow Crisp.
He was selling the pear long before it was being promoted as a unique variety. Since Vineland Growers entered the picture, “a whole marketing program has been built on the Sundown pear, not linking it in any way to Bartlett,” he said. And that’s the right way, he said. “It has a flavor all its own that is unique and pleasant. It tastes good.”
His goal is 20 to 25 tons per acre. Since the trees are on a vigorous rootstock, the three-wire trellis “is just to keep the tree growing straight in the first few years,” he said.
“They’ve developed a pretty solid trunk. We’ve taken the U-clips off. We did a lot of branch tying in the early years, tying limbs down with jute twine, and now we’re doing renewal pruning. They’re trained to a tall spindle—just like apples,” he said.
Lisa Jenereaux, the orchard manager at her family’s Spurr Brothers orchard in Melvern Square, Nova Scotia, said growing pears “is all fairly new to everyone who is trying it. There used to be pears here 20 years ago, but there were huge fire blight issues, and we got tired of fighting it.”
Back then, pears were grown for processing. “We’re looking at it quite differently now,” she said.
Mori Essex Nursery
Jenereaux planted biaxis trees and, like the other growers, oriented the branches down the row, in a fruiting wall, rather than out into the row as with a V-trellis. “The trees are not on dwarfing rootstock and are quite vigorous,” she said. “The two leaders are meant to slow them down a bit.”
Hers are on a two-wire trellis with bamboo stakes. Because her heavy clay soil stays wet, the trees are planted on a raised bed created before planting using an angled blade to form the berm.
The growers’ trees are being grown by Mori Essex Nursery, which recently reorganized to better serve commercial fruit growers. It grows the trees in Essex, near Windsor across the peninsula from its main headquarters near Niagara-on-the-Lake.
So far, general manager Robert Haynes said growers have planted about 30,000 trees, and another 100,000 are growing in the nursery. At a 4.5- by 12-foot spacing, it takes 760 trees to plant an acre. The trees are rooted on OHxF 87 or 97, he said, both just somewhat smaller than seedling rootstock.
“I think it’s the best way to go,” he said of the two-leaders-per-root, biaxis system. “I think it’s a very good idea. We don’t have a really good rootstock to control vigor.”
The trees are quite upright, he said, so “growers are being forced to pull branches down to bring them into production quickly. It works just like the tall spindle system for apples.”
MaxCel, he believes, will also work as well on pears as on apples when applied in the nursery to develop more branching.
In Nova Scotia, Larry Lutz, Scotian Gold’s director of grower services, said the Vineland Growers Cooperative has licensed Scotian Gold as its sales agent in eastern Canada, and that four members of Scotian Gold had planted trees. “We’re still working out the marketing details,” he said.
“Nova Scotia was a traditional Clapps and Bartlett pear-growing area until the 1980s when the canneries closed and efforts to penetrate fresh markets fizzled,” he said. “Harovin Sundown has rated highly in taste tests. Grower interest in pears is reviving.” •
Marketing rollout for Sundown coming in 2015
A Canada-wide marketing campaign for the Harovin Sundown pear will start in 2015, when volume has grown enough to justify a big rollout.
That’s according to Michael Ecker, president of Vineland Growers Cooperative, whose members and subcontracted growers combined will have about 100 acres bearing the fruit. More are being planted.
The Vineland Growers Cooperative has exclusive rights to grow and market the pear in all of Canada. The owner of the pear, the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, is looking for growers in the western United States.
While no concrete plan for marketing the pear has been developed, Ecker said they have put aside some money for a fairly aggressive marketing campaign, which will be a big launch, by Canadian standards. Canada has about 33 million people, a tenth the population of the United States.
The pear ripens in October and stores well, Ecker said, so marketing will go on from December through February.