Experts with global experience shared advice about orchard management for quality pears at the Future Orchards® Pear Masterclass last week.
About 40 growers travelled to Agriculture Victoria’s Tatura centre and heard from guest speakers including Associate Professor Stefano Musacchi, Washington State University Associate Professor and the Endowed Chair – Tree Fruit Physiology and Management.
Stefano’s work and research in orchards in Europe and the US has shown him that while there are key aspects of management that every orchard needs to address, the best suited variety, rootstock, growing system, pruning techniques and more depend on individual circumstances.
He said the simplest thing a grower could do to increase productivity was to increase the number of trees.
“This is very valuable, but it doesn’t mean you’re increasing your income – that depends on the market,” Stefano said.
He said fruit trees and the whole orchard needed to be managed to balance production and fruit size, although he said in Italy the focus had moved to prioritising fruit size.
To get the best price for pears, they had to be of good quality and of a good size, generally 70mm or above, for which good light exposure was vital.
“There are some rules that are always true – the small tree usually gives you a much bigger surface compared to volume ratio and this ratio means the trees receive more light,” Stefano said.
Growers should also aim to make the whole tree’s exposure to light as even as possible when choosing growing systems and making pruning decisions. Stefano said that would help ensure fruit size and quality was more even and thus easier to market.
He said sunlight was so important as leaves that developed in and remained in the sunlight simply “worked better”. Furthermore, if you don’t have 30 per cent of the light available in the canopy, you don’t develop flower buds, Stefano said.
He said the bi-axis growing system was successful in the orchards he worked in that had an excess of vigour.
“If you double the number of shoots, the length becomes less – it’s a good compromise,” he said.
“But if I have a low vigour situation, I need to do things differently, otherwise I’ll never get the root size I need.”
The most appropriate pruning technique and timing depending on the orchard circumstances – for example if he pruned a vigorous tree in winter, it only made the situation worse.
Stefano showed the growers how he would decide how to prune different trees on the orchard walk through the new blush pear varieties that have been developed at the Tatura research station by Dr Ian Goodwin and his team. Stefano warned that it was difficult to give specific advice without being familiar with a variety and a location.
Horticulture consultant Marcel Veens also presented advice on how growers could improve pear quality.
Marcel focussed on storage rot, which he said many growers were not aware of because it didn’t show until fruit was stored. Angus Crawford, APAL’s Technical Manager, said rot had also proven to be a market access issue.
Marcel urged growers to go back to basics to address storage rot, such as cleaning bins.
“Everyone is aware they should be doing it, but a lot don’t,” he said. “It is hard, but you can get contractors in, which we’re seeing a lot in Italy with their cooperatives,” Marcel said.
He said pressure-testing fruit to know which would store better in the long-term and which should be sold sooner was vital.
As is orchard hygiene, such as mowing, particularly in wetter districts where rots are a bigger problem and spreading urea to break down the last season’s material.
While pears are generally picked quickly in Australia, growers need to be wary of avoiding wounds.
“You only need one little wound for storage rot,” Marcel said.
A common culprit was picker’s nails damaging the fruit and Marcel said in Europe it was becoming more common for orchardists to provide pickers with gloves to avoid such damage.
“A protectant is always better than a cure,” he said, adding that extended to on-label use of chemicals.