Tony Sunnucks, a fruit grower in Kent, England, is developing a concept pear orchard financed by the U.K. fruit marketer OrchardWorld.

The concept orchard at Sunnuck’s Rankins Farm at Linton includes the new pear varieties Delsanne, Gourmande, Verdi, and Elliott and is designed to show how growers can achieve high yields and grow pears profitably. The first trees were planted in 2009. When the block is fully planted next spring, it will be 7.5 acres, with Delsanne being the primary variety. All the trees are on quince rootstocks and are planted on a 3- by 11-foot spacing.

The 2009 planting produced a little fruit last year, in the second leaf, and looked set to produce about 15 to 20 bins per acre this season. Sunnucks hopes to harvest 70 bins per acre when the trees are mature.

Small fruit

Fruit size is not a concern for U.K. growers because many of the apples and pears—even first-grade fruit—are sold in polybags. Sunnucks said the acceptable size range for pears is between 50 and 75 millimeters (2 to 3 inches diameter) with the ideal being 60 mm (2.5 inches). Most of the first-grade pears from the concept orchard will be sold by the major U.K. supermarket Sainsbury’s.

Sunnucks said OrchardWorld, which supplies about 60 percent of Sainsbury’s English tree fruits, approached him with the idea of planting the orchard to stimulate interest in growing pears. There’s a big demand for U.K.-grown fruit. The United Kingdom has a population of more than 60 million, but only 350 fruit growers, compared with 15 million people and 2,000 fruit growers in the Netherlands.

If the U.K. can’t meet demand, ­Sainsbury’s imports from Europe.