Over the winter, pear growers and scientists in the Pacific Northwest put their heads together to identify the industry’s critical pest management needs and develop a strategic plan to address them.

The result is a 99-page document that the pear industry hopes will help leverage more funding for research and extension programs.

Bob Gix, cochair of the research subcommittee of the Fresh and Processed Pear Committees, said the genesis of the plan came two years ago when horticulturist Fred Valentine made an impassioned plea during a Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission review for more research on pear pest management. For several years, Washington State University has had no entomologist ­dedicated to pear pests.

Last winter, Katie Murray and Joe DeFrancesco of Oregon State University put together a working group of 25 pear growers and field horticulturists and gathered input from producers at five meetings in pear-growing districts of Washington and Oregon. They then wrote the strategic plan.

The plan includes what Gix calls a “laundry list” of critical needs in terms of research, regulatory matters, and education, and identifies commonalities and differences between the regions. He envisions that the plan will be used to leverage federal and state grant funds, which often require a documented stakeholder need. It will also help guide research and extension efforts.

Above all, the plan underscores the need to devote significant resources to pear entomology and to understand the balance between natural biology and producing a crop, said Gix, who cochairs the research subcommittee with Ray Schmitten and Steve Hunt.

Ultimately, however, everything revolves around tree architecture and the need to find a dwarfing rootstock that can be used for pears in the Pacific Northwest. With smaller trees, growers could develop pedestrian-style orchards that are less susceptible to attack by pests such as pear psylla as well as being easier to manage. “It would impact spraying, it would impact labor, it would change pruning. It really affects almost ­everything we do,” Gix said.

Bringing rootstocks into the country for evaluation is a long-term and expensive endeavor. Breeding new pear ­rootstocks would be even more costly and time consuming. Should a pear rootstock breeding program be launched, Gix suspects it would be a regional effort involving the country’s major pear-­producing states of Washington, Oregon, and ­California.

To see the full list of critical needs, download the plan (PDF). The Fresh and Processed Pear Committees, which administer the federal marketing order for pears, funded the plan. •