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Crispie, various pear crosses, Maxie.

Crispie, various pear crosses, Maxie.

Ray Schmitten, a pear grower in Cashmere, Washington, reports on a study trip to New Zealand that he took in 2006 with the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission.

HortResearch is a commercially focused research institute owned by the government of New Zealand. It specializes in researching novel technologies, innovative fruits, and fruit-derived products with high consumer appeal, with a strong focus on human well-being.

It is expected that HortResearch will commercialize the findings of its research programs by forming collaborations with industry and establishing routes to market their services worldwide. This will be done through licensing or plant patents, collaborations, joint ventures, or simply fee-for-service work.

Pear breeding

HortResearch establishes targets for its apple and pear breeders. Their directive for establishing the targets is to first query the consumer. What qualities is the consumer looking for in fruit?

In pears, for example, the Sensory and Consumer Science Laboratory at HortResearch has established that the pear consumer will repeatedly buy a pear that is ready to eat on the shelf. This fits with the approach of marketing for the convenience lifestyle.

Trusting their research and understanding that shipping a conditioned European pear to market from New Zealand could be very difficult, HortResearch has focused its sights on a pear breeding program to develop a pear that is edible at harvest time without the need for preconditioning.

This has resulted in some interesting pears.

Maxie and Crispie

From thousands of crosses made, many shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors have resulted. The two crosses with the most potential are Crispie and Maxie. These are second-generation crosses.

Crispie is a pyriform cross, sweet and edible at harvest with a crisp texture, while Maxie is a red pear with a more complex flavor volatile profile. Maxie also has a crisp texture and is shaped more like an Asian pear. The tree growth and spurring habits of both crosses look a lot like Asian pear, while the leaf looks like Bartlett.

These pears do not have the melting texture of European pears, but do have a quality of flavor enhancement after harvest, which does not occur in Asian pears.

Both Crispie and Maxie have a fairly short storage life, which make them unattractive for the New Zealand growers’ export program. It is thought that they will not be widely planted in New Zealand except for local consumption.

These varieties are more suited to producers who are in the same continent as their markets. Australia is a partner in the development and patenting of these varieties and will be able to take the first stab at commercializing these varieties.

Crispie appears to have a very sensitive skin, which will probably limit its commercial use in the United States.

Maxie appears to have a more durable skin, and HortResearch scientists think it could be run over a commercial packing line. More packing line experience for this variety would be prudent.

From this grower’s standpoint, the downfall is the Asian pear shape. Aside from the color, it will be difficult to differentiate this pear from any other Asian pear on the shelf. However, the flavor will help bring consumers back to the pear, while color could give it its individual identity.

Additionally, it is a New Zealand grower’s concern that the bloom period for these pears is very long, and this long bloom period could equate to high odds of fireblight infection in a New Zealand-type climate. So, fireblight resistance is an additional trait HortResearch will be looking for while doing further crosses with these varieties.

Market research

While the market potential for the two front-line varieties of pears developed by HortResearch may be limited for the U.S. grower, the take-home point here is that HortResearch has established a goal derived from market research. HortResearch has used its resources to accomplish the goal and has results to show for its effort. The resulting varieties are only second-generation pears, and as these pears are crossed with other varieties with desirable traits, the outcome will undoubtedly improve. HortResearch now has a great base for germplasm which is now ever-growing.

Although their goal is focused, its scientists are taking note of other traits that have developed in their crosses that might be useful in the future. This database includes things like pears with unique flavors, such as citrus, pineapple, or nut. Fireblight resistance, compact tree structure, and short internode development to indicate dwarfing potential, are also some of the noted traits.

Collaboration

It makes sense for U.S. growers to explore collaboration in pear breeding to screen for traits that U.S producers view as important. Such collaboration could be in lockstep with a pear breeding program in the United States. Combining expertise towards a common goal would speed up the potential for desired results and be an efficient use of limited industry funds. Results of a collaborative breeding program could be patented in the name of U.S. growers, or a partnership could be developed similar to a current HortResearch partnership called Prevar.

Prevar, which stands for “premium varieties,” is a joint venture between HortResearch, pipfruit growers of Australia and New Zealand, and the Associated International Group of Nurseries. The partners have secured $2.4 million annually for the HortResearch pipfruit breeding program, assuring ongoing development of new and exciting apple and pear varieties. Prevar will license new cultivars worldwide and in 2005 launched a Gala alternative called Sweetie, as well as the two new pears Crispie and Maxie.

Schmitten is a grower member for the Wenatchee district on the Fresh Pear Committee of the federal pear marketing order and is chair of the marketing order’s research subcommittee. He is also an ex-officio member of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission.