New life for pear in­dus­try

The Orchardist - - Pears - By Rose Man­ner­ing

The truly unique pear va­ri­ety has been devel­oped out of a cross un­der­taken at Plant & Food Re­search 20 years ago be­tween Euro­pean, Chi­nese and Ja­panese pears. The se­lec­tion has sub­se­quently been com­mer­cialised by Pre­var Ltd.

Piqa Boo’s unique red skin, shape and del­i­cate crunchy flavour have been an im­me­di­ate hit with Asian con­sumers, with sales in the past sea­son reach­ing an av­er­age pay­out of $116 for an 18-kg equiv­a­lent TCE. Fern Ridge Fresh’s sup­ply man­ager and Piqa Boo Pro­gramme chair­man Mike van Workum says this price is sec­ond only to a record set­ting con­tainer of or­ganic Hon­ey­crisp sent to the US mar­ket last sea­son which reached $118 per TCE.

“Piqa Boo was sent to China, Tai­wan and Sin­ga­pore to get as much mar­ket spread as pos­si­ble; 7kg trays sold for be­tween $30 and $55,” he says. So far Piqa Boo is the only one of the ini­tial group of Plant & Food se­lec­tions that has been com­mer­cialised. Early plant­ings of the va­ri­ety are now six years old, and one of those grow­ers Mal­colm Sal­mond says it has been a steep learn­ing curve for the early adopters, but he is com­mit­ted to the po­ten­tial of the new crop.

Mal­colm, on his Mahana or­chard, and Bruce Fraser at Ri­waka were in the first wave of trial plant­ing of Piqa Boo. Half of Mal­colm’s or­chard is planted in pears, and in re­cent years he had been strug­gling to pro­duce tra­di­tional pears of a size and vol­ume per hectare to be eco­nomic.

His Tay­lor’s Gold and Beurre Bosc are now sold solely on the do­mes­tic mar­ket. Ex­porters would only take count 100 pears and above which meant eco­nomic ton­nages per hectare could not be reached. “By sell­ing these pear va­ri­eties on the lo­cal mar­ket, we can har­vest down to count 135 which makes a big dif­fer­ence to ton­nages.”

He still ex­ports his Doyenne du Comice, and faces the same prob­lem of what to do with his smaller fruit.

Mal­colm was at­tracted to Piqa Boo at a new va­ri­ety day seven years ago, and was one of the first three or four to trial the

pear. “Af­ter the first cou­ple of years we saw the great colour and shape of this new va­ri­ety.” Vis­its from Asian cus­tomers with Pre­var to his or­chard quickly demon­strated it would be a hit in these mar­kets.

The tran­si­tion has not been pain­less for Mal­colm. Grafted onto stan­dard grow­ing sys­tems Piqa Boo is not a huge crop­per. He has also devel­oped a block in a dou­ble cor­don close spaced at 3.5 me­tres be­tween rows and 1.2 me­tres be­tween trees. Mal­colm feels his dou­ble cor­don is work­ing well for him, with less in­ten­sive tree train­ing re­quired.

His first de­vel­op­ment of one hectare was on grafted trees, and he now has a sim­i­lar area planted three years ago on the cor­don sys­tem. Fire­b­light has not been an is­sue for Mal­colm, but blast has been more of a prob­lem.

There has been a quiet up­take of the new va­ri­ety, with vol­umes ex­pected to reach 50,000 car­tons (18kg equiv­a­lent) by 2022. Ex­cep­tional prices this year were re­ceived for 3,200 7kg trays sent to Asia; next year vol­umes will more than dou­ble to 7,000 trays.

Six ex­porters Yummy, Fern Ridge Fresh, In­ter­grow, Pick­mee, Golden Bay and Fresh­max are li­censed to ex­port the va­ri­ety. Mike says Piqa Boo is en­tirely unique; a mod­est bud­get en­abled the de­vel­op­ment of a “brand story” to pro­mote the new taste to prospec­tive Asian cus­tomers. The $60,000 project set out to cre­ate a strate­gic global brand for a world-first fruit. Video, point of sale ma­te­rial and pho­to­graphs to sup­port the story were devel­oped. Sixty thou­sand trees have been planted around the coun­try, about half in Nel­son and half in Hawke’s Bay. Mike pre­dicts this will dou­ble in the next five years to 120,000; de­vel­op­ment hinges around a mix­ture of graft­ing over ex­ist­ing va­ri­eties like Comice or Tay­lor’s Gold, and in­ten­sive plant­ings us­ing the FOPS (Plant and Foods Fu­ture Or­chard Pro­duc­tion Sys­tems) con­cept of grow­ing. The FOPS sys­tem is a bi-ax­ial struc­ture, en­abling rows to be planted as close as 1.5 me­tres apart and aims to al­low trees to in­ter­cept

more than 85% of avail­able light.

Yummy, Sun­fruit and Fresh­max have planted con­sid­er­able ar­eas. “The pear cat­e­gory will re­ally start to grow in the next 10 years,” he pre­dicts. Pear planted area has been in de­cline in re­cent

years, tee­ter­ing be­low 400 hectares.

There is much to learn about Piqa Boo in a com­mer­cial en­vi­ron­ment; har­vest man­age­ment needs fine tun­ing, as the Brix in­creases, colour has a ten­dency to fade. The va­ri­ety needs pick­ing ev­ery three to four days as ma­tu­rity ad­vances rapidly. Most of the crop planted in Nel­son is net­ted, and foil has been used. Trees have been ei­ther grown un­der ebro or FOPS grow­ing sys­tems. Fruit needs to cool­stored be­fore it goes to the cus­tomer and if fruit is picked im­ma­ture, it is not scuff re­sis­tant.

Bruce Fraser has been thrilled with the way Piqa Boo has adapted to grow­ing in his grafted or­chard at Ri­waka. “We were pre­dom­i­nantly Comice grow­ers but prices fell from $50

to $30, there was no point car­ry­ing on.” He was look­ing hard for re­place­ments and tried both Pap­ple, and Piqa Boo. Piqa Boo was grafted onto the ebro es­palier grow­ing sys­tem, re­plac­ing the comice and grafted onto BA29 quince root­stocks. Now with 4 hectares of ebro con­verted to the new va­ri­ety, the in­cred­i­bly vig­or­ous growth of Piqa Boo is “tamed” by the ebro grow­ing sys­tem.

Con­stant in­put from his near neigh­bours, the Ri­waka Plant & Food re­search sta­tion, has helped him make crit­i­cal de­ci­sions as the crop has devel­oped.

Plant & Food sci­ence group leader Dr Stu­art Tustin says trees grow­ing at the Have­lock North re­search cen­tre are ex­pected to pro­duce 50 tonnes per hectare in their third year based on the canopy and flow­er­ing. As con­firmed by other grow­ers, Piqa Boo is not suited to a cen­tre-leader sys­tem but fits in well with the de­vel­op­ing FOPS sys­tem.

“We are keen to pro­mote some of the newer grow­ing sys­tems; it will make life eas­ier, with the num­ber of min­utes to prune each tree. The FOPs sys­tem of­fers a big canopy and the abil­ity to get the plant un­der con­trol very quickly,” he says.

Nurs­ery pro­duc­tion has so far been con­cen­trated on the in­dus­try stan­dard in­ter­me­di­ate-grow­ing BA29 root­stock. Stu­art is keen for grow­ers to try the more dwarf­ing Quince C, the root­stock of choice in Europe. Flow­er­ing ap­pears ear­lier on Quince C, and fruit set ap­pears bet­ter.

Piqa Boo has strong pear scab re­sis­tance, and Plant & Food have se­lected pol­li­na­tors from the same breed­ing pro­gramme which also of­fer scab (or blackspot) re­sis­tance and flower at the same time as Piqa Boo.

At the Have­lock North re­search or­chard, Piqa Boo flow­ers pro­fusely; Stu­art says 50 per cent of flow­er­ing sites were re­moved leav­ing them blank to ini­ti­ate flo­ral buds for next year and man­age bi­en­nial bear­ing.

Pre­var chief ex­ec­u­tive Brett En­nis con­firms while the new pear has great at­tributes, it is not fire­b­light re­sis­tant, but it does have mod­er­ate tol­er­ance to this dev­as­tat­ing dis­ease. De­spite this, there has been a good up­take of the new va­ri­ety in Hawke’s Bay where in the past, fire­b­light has caused prob­lems for pear grow­ers.

Other ex­cit­ing pears have been re­viewed un­der the Piqa fam­ily brand, and while some are be­ing com­mer­cially tri­alled, none are ready for com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion. Fu­ture breed­ing ef­forts at Plant & Food are con­cen­trat­ing on fire­b­light re­sis­tance. In Hawke’s Bay, Sun­fruit re­gional op­er­a­tions man­ager Nathan Clark says his or­gan­i­sa­tion has planted four hectares of Piqa Boo, and plans a sim­i­lar de­vel­op­ment next year. Trees have been planted on a FOPS model, two me­tres be­tween rows and three me­tres be­tween trees. So far the trees are look­ing good; Plant & Food are two years ahead so Nathan plans to ben­e­fit from its learn­ings. Some mod­i­fi­ca­tion of ma­chin­ery has been nec­es­sary to fit the two me­tre rows; mow­ing and weed spray­ing has been car­ried out con­ven­tion­ally but Plant & Food is de­vel­op­ing a new link­age sprayer to use in the FOPS sys­tem.

Nathan says the strong ver­ti­cal growth of Piqa Boo lends it­self to the FOPS sys­tem, as the lack of lat­eral branch­ing be­comes less of a prob­lem. Each plant has 10 ver­ti­cal grow­ing tips in the new sys­tem. Sun­fruit is ex­cited about the prospect of chal­leng­ing tra­di­tional grow­ing sys­tems by adopt­ing the FOPS method.

The com­pany also grows tra­di­tional va­ri­eties of pears for its lo­cal mar­ket sup­ply through its mar­ket­ing arm, Pick­mee.

The ad­van­tages of the FOPS grow­ing sys­tem is ex­plained at a field day at the Plant & Food Re­search sta­tion at Have­lock North in Novem­ber by Dr Stu­art Tustin (left) to Mike van Workum (cen­tre), Karl Knapp (right) and Stewart Horn (rear).

Greg Drum­mond, Fraser Or­chard, with the truly unique pear Piqa Boo.

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