Pear growers update report on sustainability
By Steve Adler
Walnut Grove pear grower Chuck Baker checks one of the solid-set sprinklers in use in his pear orchards. Growers like Baker use solid-set systems and micro-sprinklers to improve water efficiency.
Delta pear grower Chuck Baker checks pears from this year’s huge crop.
A “puffer,” the term used for pheromone dispensing units utilized to control codling moths, a pear pest.
As more farmers and ranchers focus on farming sustainably, California pear growers point out that they have been farming sustainably long before the term became well-known.
"Our pear growers have embraced an integrated pest management program for many years and there have been a lot of resources put into making it work," said Chris Zanobini, executive director of the California Pear Advisory Board. "From a growing standpoint, they were ahead of the curve in finding ways to control pests back before IPM was even the norm."
To update information on pear farmers' adoption of sustainable practices, the board asked farmers to complete a California Pear Sustainability Practices Survey. Administered by Sureharvest Inc., an agricultural sustainability program design firm, the survey follows one first completed by pear growers in 2009. Results from the updated survey are currently being tabulated and will be released soon, Zanobini said.
While definitions of sustainability differ among various users of the term, the CPAB defines it this way: "The concept and practice of balancing economic prosperity, environmental stewardship, and social responsibility so they together lead to an improved quality of life for ourselves and future generations."
Sustainable practices include general farm management, IPM, soil and nutrient management, energy management, water management, ecosystem management and employer practices, Zanobini said.
California pear growers demonstrate a high level of adoption of IPM practices. For example, 95 percent report scouting for key pests throughout the year in order to use pest control measures only when absolutely necessary. In addition, 95 percent of the farmers use mating-disrupting pheromones as their primary treatment for codling moths.
Pheromone dispensers—known as puffers because they periodically emit a puff of pheromone into the pear orchard—are the primary tool used today. But Zanobini said pheromone control really started many years earlier, with twist ties that were placed on pear trees in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta pear-growing region.
"The program was so effective that it expanded statewide, and then it went to a regional program that went from California all the way up into Canada," he said.
Fifth-generation delta pear grower Chuck Baker said he has been using pheromone confusion of codling moths for 15 years.
"We've sprayed no organophosphates at all. This requires a lot of monitoring, a lot more than in the past. Everything we use now is very targeted to a specific insect pest, and is very soft on beneficial insects," he said. "Actually, we do very little spraying at all. We work very hard at trying to do a better job of the way we farm the land. My kids grew up on an orchard, just like I did, and I want them to be safe."
Water efficiency is another sustainable practice that has been embraced by pear growers. Many growers report using soil moisture monitoring devices to determine their water status when planning irrigation, Zanobini said.
Baker added that the majority of growers have installed solid-set sprinklers and, in many instances, micro-sprinklers.
"We work very hard at water monitoring. We want all of our pumps to be efficient," he said.
Baker pointed out that the proof as to the success of the pear growers' sustainability efforts is the improved yields that they are achieving on fewer acres of pears than in the past.
"Our yields have never been this high. We have astronomical yields. If my grandfather or great-grandfather could see the kinds of yields we have today, they would be amazed. But they would also be very excited for us, because this is huge tonnage that we are getting now compared to what we used to get," he said.
The motivation to place more effort into educating the public about pear growers' sustainable practices came from the commodity's customer base, which wanted to see more sustainable farming operations.
"When we talk about sustainability, the whole driver behind that is really coming from the customer base, whether the fruit is going to the fresh market, the processing market, wherever it may be. There is a driving trend toward wanting to have sustainable production and sustainable operations," Zanobini said. "This started as a cooperative movement among growers and processors, but the real driver came from some of the big players on the processing side, the canned fruit side."
Baker said farmers have been working very hard in recent years to make the public aware of how sustainable they are.
"We always knew we are sustainable, and now we want the public to be aware of it as well. Sustainability is a moving target. Every retail supplier has its own definition. There is no single definition that is right, and so the pear industry has been working very hard in the past couple years to set up a sustainable program," he said. "We are very conscious of our duty to make this ground better off than it was when we inherited it."
(Steve Adler is associate editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at email@example.com.)
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.