The Interpera International Pear Congress took place in Tours, France from the 25th to 27th of June 2019. This congress was organized by AREFLH (Assembly of European Horticultural Regions) and the French Apple and Pear Association. The Congress included a technical visit to 3 farms to one of the production areas in close proximity, a formal conference and a visit to the experimental station La Moriniḕre. This was a great opportunity to experience firsthand how the 10th largest World pear producing country compares with our local industry.
Hortgro’s Operational Manager Mariette Kotzé represented South Africa and shares her perspective.
Highlights of the technical visits
The orchard visits included a focus on varieties such as Comice, Williams, Conference, Sweet Sensation, Cutie and Angélys mostly on an Adams rootstock. In general, the orchards visited were under nets. The net structures observed were able to open during winter and be closed during the summer months. Orchards are irrigated with overhead sprinklers that could sometimes be supplemented by drip irrigation. It is clear that the French producers do not have a shortage of water! The overhead sprinklers are not only being used for irrigation purposes but also to combat frost. The average production of these orchards varied between 40 tons/ha to 60 tons/ha.
During the farm visits, it was evident that there is a big focus and drive towards newer varieties with emphasis on blushed and/or red Pear strains, with higher yields and pack-out percentages. Employee costs, availability, and productivity were highlighted as key challenges in the Northern Hemisphere producing countries and orchard development is done by using a specialized team that only focusses on orchard development. Soil health, fertility and soil cover is important to these growers in order to renew the soils and ensure sustainable production practices. Bees as pollinators and the impact it has on fruit set was regarded as a critical and therefore many of the farms had invested in their own beehives for sufficient pollination.
Noting all of the above there is really not much of a difference when compared to local production practices.
The Conference – sharing knowledge
The focus of the Interpera Conference centered around the following themes:
- Innovation – new varieties, improved production techniques
- Decreased consumption levels
- Climate change and the impact on the pear industry
- Competition & sustainability
- Employee costs and working conditions
Experiences from a number of countries were shared these included the USA, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, China, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain & Portugal.
Things to look out for (based on personal opinion):
- Increased demand for organic pears – this is regarded as a growing category
- New varieties with a focus on more russet, blush and full red pears
- Increased production levels, although the total area planted is some instances decreased – highlighted increased productivity per unit.
- Research indicated that half of the US Pear consumers were 34 years and younger indicating that millennials like pears, contrary to the belief that the consumer profile of pears is aging.
- Inter-Continental trade becoming more important – e.g. More than a third of Argentine Pear Exports goes to Brazil
- Improving the position of growers and strengthening the role of producer organizations.
- World wide a focus on risk management such as netting and insurance products.
Things to watch out for (based on personal opinion):
- Rootstocks remains a challenge especially dwarfing rootstock
- Pear Psylla (Psylla pyri) and susceptibility to fire blight is a very big problem in the Northern Hemisphere
- Fragmented and segmented production with concentrated exporters.
- Exchange rate and economic pressures impacting on exports
- Market concentration and dependency – oversupply in EU markets, fewer imports by Southern Hemisphere countries whilst production levels of Northern Hemisphere are increasing
- Trade wars & protectionism is increasing, influencing trade e.g. Russian embargo had a massive impact on EU exports to Russia the availability of Pears in the Northern Hemisphere driving prices below
- Chinese productivity levels remain low, however, there is a focus on modernization.
- China is on the radar as a new export market
- Increased pressure on the use of chemicals and residue levels.
In conclusion, Pear production in the EU and USA has negatively been impacted by a warm winter, cold spring and recent heatwave conditions. Early indications are that fresh pear production in the Northern Hemisphere is going to be 9% lower compared to last year and 3% lower compared to a 4-year average. Less Pears in the EU!