Strengthen and Develop Asian Pear Market in Virginia

The Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR) has concluded one year of research with impressive results for participating Asian pear growers. The research is funded by a two-year Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) grant to study tree pruning methodology and fruit bagging techniques in Virginia Asian pear orchards to improve Asian pear yield and quality, and to develop a standard Asian pear training, pruning, and bagging system for Virginia farmers.

IALR scientist, Dr. Kedong Da, demonstrated a bagging technique with three types of bags for Saunders Brothers Farm in Nelson County and Virginia Gold Orchard in Rockbridge County. Pre-harvest bagging is a successful technique used in Asian countries to produce high-value fruits and protect fruits from insects, chemical sprays, hail, and birds. Dr. Da and IALR research assistant, Samantha Smith-Herndon, placed the Asian pears in three types of bags in May. The bags are approximately 6 by 8 inches and allow the pears (or other fruit) to grow in them from May to harvest. Of the three bags tested, the double-layer paper bags produced the best quality fruit.

“The fruit that came out was beautiful and so we’re very interested in this. We do have a lot of customers asking for pesticide-free fruit,” said Bennett Saunders with Saunders Brothers Farm Market. “This may be a practice we can adopt and do well with,” he added. VIDEO LINK: Asian pear research testimonials

“What the Institute has done has allowed us to demonstrate for our own future the benefit of fruit bagging. Not necessarily organic, but more healthy and with less chemicals,” said Paul Estabrook, Virginia Gold Orchard Owner.

The bag costs are minimal and on average a grower can bag 2,500 pears in one day. The immediate economic impact for growers includes a higher yield, better visual qualities for more marketable fruits, and a significantly reduced pesticide residue.

“Frankly I’m amazed and impressed at how something so seemingly insignificant (bag technique) can make such a big difference in the end product,” said Melissa Ball, VDACS representative.

Two types of pears are grown in Virginia, European and Asian. The European pear is most commonly available in stores. The Asian pear has rapidly increased its market share in the United States due to its attractive appearance and white, crisp, and sweet flesh. The potential exists to increase Virginia-grown Asian pear production and market share.

According to IALR Scientist Dr. Da, farm size, soil type, and climate differences have restricted technologies successfully applied in the Pacific Northwest of U.S. from being applied to Virginia’s small-medium sized farms; especially to Virginia organic farmers whose cultivation practice is quite different from commercial growers utilizing mechanical pruning and chemical thinning.

“Like any industry, agriculture depends on quality research and data to remain competitive in a 21st Century economy,” said Governor Terry McAuliffe.

PHOTOS:
Photo 1The Asian pears on the left were grown in double-layer paper bags. The Asian pears on the right were grown in the same orchard with no bags.


 

Photo 2IALR Senior Scientist Dr. Kedong Da (left) and research assistant Samantha Smith-Herndon observe the Asian pears collected in the lab.


 

Photo 3IALR Senior Scientist Dr. Kedong Da harvests Asian pears at Saunders Brothers Farm in Nelson County.


 

Photo 4Bennett Saunders (left) with Saunders Brothers Farm holds a bagged Asian pear. Dr. Da is holding an Asian pear from the control group.