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July 29, 2010

California pear growers get good marks for sustainability

Don Schrack, The Packer
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The California pear industry is aggressively pursuing sustainable farming practices, according to the findings of a recent study.

The June-November 2009 study was conducted by the California Pear Advisory Board, Sacramento; the Pear Pest Management Research Fund, Davis, Calif.; and SureHarvest Inc., Soquel, Calif., an agricultural sustainability program design firm.

The study benchmarked pear growers’ current level of participation in sustainable production practices, according to a July 28 news release.

Of the industry’s 56 growers, 71% participated in the self-assessment. Among the findings detailed in the summary:

  • 95% of grower-shippers reported using integrated pest management programs to minimize the application of chemicals;
  • 5% of growers used pesticides to eradicate codling moth while the majority used mating disruption pheromones;
  • 87% of growers plant orchard row middles with ground cover to minimize soil erosion;
  • 82% apply fertilizer at or below rates recommended by University of California experts;
  • 76% of the respondents provide housing for at least some of their workers; and
  • 44% use soil moisture monitoring devices to determine their soil water status when planning irrigation.

For the purposes of the study, sustainability was defined as balancing economic prosperity, environmental stewardship and social responsibility, according to the release.

There are areas where California pear grower-shippers could improve practices, according to the study.

Just 18% of growers reported using an evapotranspiration model to schedule irrigations. Evapotranspiration is the sum of evaporation and plant transpiration from the soil’s surface to the atmosphere.

Fewer than one in five growers has a comprehensive energy management plan, and just 8% use solar to generate energy for farming operations, according to the summary.