California Pear Growers Practice Sustainable Farming

Sacramento, CA – A recent survey of California pear farmers has found that when it comes to sustainable farming practices such as employing Integrated Pest Management methods to reduce the use of pesticides, the California pear industry has a very high level of adoption. The survey, conducted by SureHarvest Inc. a leading agricultural sustainability program design firm, shows that over 90 percent of California pear farmers regularly incorporate practices such as daily scouting for pests to reduce spray applications and utilizing non-toxic pheromone treatments in place of pesticides to reduce pest populations.

The survey of California Pear Advisory Board members was conducted from June to November 2009 to assess the adoption of Best Management Practices related to several key areas of “sustainability.” For the purposes of this study “sustainability” is described as follows: “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.”

“We were quite impressed with the percentage of pear farmers who are using Integrated Pest Management practices to reduce pesticide use,” said Dr. Daniel Sonke, senior scientist with SureHarvest. “We work with several other industry groups and this study shows that California pears have one of the highest rates of adoption for IPM practices we have seen.”

According to Sonke, the term IPM refers to a system which incorporates biological and non-chemical means of assessing and controlling pest populations to prevent or reduce the use of chemical pesticides. Farmers who practice IPM methods will spend a great deal of time monitoring pest populations to determine when and if treatments are necessary and will incorporate control measures such as “mating disruption” which relies on pheromone applications rather than spraying of harsh pesticides.

Sonke noted that among other findings, key survey results show that 95 percent of California pear growers surveyed report scouting for pests throughout the year to inform their pest management decisions. When it comes to controlling codling moth, one of the major pests of pears, 95 percent of California pear farmers use mating disruption pheromones as their primary treatment. When deciding what amount of fertilizers to use, 82 percent of the pear farmers surveyed reported applying fertilizer at or below the rates recommended by university scientists and 87 percent of pear farmers reported their orchard row middles are vegetated, which reduces the likelihood of soil erosion from wind or water. In addition, 76 percent of respondents reported providing housing for at least some of their employees.

“Pear trees live a long time, perhaps 50 or 75 years. So, it’s not too surprising that California pear farmers are focused on achieving sustainability,” noted Chris Zanobini, President of the California Pear Advisory Board, a state marketing program which represents all pear farmers in the California. “It’s also important to note that California pear farmers belong to a close-knit community which has been embattled in recent years. At one time there were 300 pear farmers in the state and today there are just 60. Those who are left have no choice but to utilize resources wisely.”

Zanobini explained that California pear farmers have long been advocates, supporters and practitioners of Integrated Pest Management. In the early 1990s pear growers formed an entity called the Pear Pest Management Research Fund whose primary function is to fund research to improve pear growing and processing practices that are economical and safe for consumers and the environment.

Zanobini noted that that the recent sustainability survey was conducted by the California Pear Advisory Board in conjunction with the Pear Pest Management Research Fund. The Best Management Practices assessed in the survey were identified by a committee of pear farmers, packers and processors along with crop consultants and representatives of the California Pear Advisory Board and the Pear Pest Management Research Fund. The survey had a very high rate of response with 71 percent of the state’s pear operations participating. This is especially impressive since the survey required that each pear operation complete a very lengthy self-assessment of farming practices which fell into the following general areas:

· General Farm Management

· Integrated Pest Management

· Soil & Nutrient Management

· Energy Management

· Water Management

· Ecosystem Management

· Employer Practices

“We are very pleased to see that pear farmers rate so highly in areas concerning pest management, soil and nutrient management and employer practices,” said Zanobini. “This survey will also be used as a tool to learn where farmers can make improvements in sustainability.”

Zanobini explained that at the completion of the survey, each farmer was given a copy with their own individual results compared with the average results for the industry. “This way each operation can judge itself in comparison to the rest of the industry and can make improvements accordingly,” he said, adding that the California Pear Advisory Board and Pear Pest Management Fund plan to use the information gained from this survey to conduct educational workshops for growers and to fund follow-up assessments.

“The road to sustainability is a journey,” said SureHarvest’s Sonke, “There will always be room for improvement, but the California pear community is well down the path in their efforts to protect and improve the future of farming.”

Source: California Pear Advisory Board