Aussie pear program aims to speed up investment returns
In an attempt to revitalize a currently lethargic pear market, Australian Scientists are experimenting with two new breeds of pears in a project funded by the state government in Victoria. The project’s senior research scientist Dr Ian Goodwin, told www.freshfruitportal.com the six-year program aims to rejuvenate the Australian pear industry and increase market penetration overseas with better quality fruit.
Traditional pears, bred in the 1800s, are struggling to compete in produce aisles where other types of fruit are more appealing to consumers for their freshness and quality.
"With regard to our traditional types of pears, there hasn’t been a change in variety for quite a long time," Goodwin said.
The team at the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) has bred two new pear varieties under the Australian National Pear Breeding Program at Tatura in Victoria. Chosen for breeding in 2001, the new pears are both a red blush variety with advantageous attributes for growers, exporters and consumers.
With traditional pear trees returning investment to growers in 10 years, the program aims to halve this figure with pears that will develop their sweetness on the tree.
"The first breed is an early pear which means it can be picked three to four weeks before traditional pears, and it’s a crisp and firm pear that can be picked and eaten straight from the tree."
The second pear, although harvested at the same time as traditional pears, has a buttery texture and is very resilient to cool storage.
Goodwin said such qualities were vital for exports, as previously Australian pears could not compete with the quality and freshness of their overseas counterparts.
"The attraction of storage increases potential for exporting fruit and is appealing when exporting to winter markets."
Goodwin added the program would likely produce more varieties of pear, including a variety that is resistant to black spot.
The project’s molecular plant breeder, Dr. Susanna Turpin, says breeding varieties of pears with favorable attributes is a very long and difficult process.
"The most important process in breeding is to select the best parents to cross breed, with the combination of attributes that are desirable in a new pear variety, and that there is sufficient variation within the population for these traits to make improvements.
"Unfortunately many of the traits we’re interested in such as disease resistance and high productivity are controlled by many genes and do not have high heritability or are in parents that also contain undesirable traits."
She said multiple generations of breeding were necessary to cultivate the desired attributes to a commercial standard.
Consumers are too often unsure when fruits like pears are ripened enough to eat. The project has recently developed a third variety of red blush pear, just ready for commercial evaluation.
"[This] can be eaten either crisp or ripened to a soft texture and shows a distinct background color change from green to yellow when fully ripened, taking the difficulty out of determining when the pear is properly softened to eat."
Currently, Goodwin and his team have planted the early harvest pear crops in an experimental orchard in Tatura for further evaluation and testing.
"In this particular experiment we are testing irrigation, root pruning techniques as well as stagger plantation and grafting trees to different root stocks."
Fruit quality, productivity and tree phenology is also closely monitored during this period of experimentation.
In 2010, Coregeo Australia, a division of Apple and Pear Australia Ltd, obtained the commercialization rights to the new pear varieties, which will be named and marketed to the industry.