The plant and the production of Pears
The pear is a fresh fruit that belongs to the Rosaceae family (a sub-family of Pomoideae), one of the most important fruit and vegetable varieties present on the market, to which belong most of the more common fruit trees.
The pear tree genus is Pyrus, and to it belong dozens of species widespread all over the world and in the world fruit and vegetable sector.
Among the pear trees, many species can be identified:
- Pyrus communis, which is the Western and more common and widespread species in all Europe. It differs in many sub-species such as the cultivated pear tree and the pyraster, or wild pear tree, present, for example all over Italy.
- Pyrus pyrofolia and the Pyrus betulaefolia, varieties of pears grown above all in Eastern regions, and widespread especially in China. The Pyrus betulaefolia is a tall and vigorous tree that can be used as a rootstock.
- Pyrus calleyrana, resistant to cold winters and to the bacterial canker, cultivated in Far East and in America.
- Pyrus ussuriensis, variety of pears very resistant to low temperatures in Winter and therefore cultivated above all in Russia, in the Usa, China and Korea.
- Pyrus serotina, commonly called Japanese or Chinese pear tree (the Nashi pear): this particular variety of pear is for some characteristics similar both to pears and to apples (fruits are round and flat, similar to apples, while the flesh, with a low or non-existent acidity, is firm, juicy and crisp, similar to that of pears).
The pear tree is a vigorous and hardy tree, with deep roots: in favourable conditions, when ripe can reach up to 15 to 18 metres. The pear tree, however, does not withstands too low temperatures in winter and too high in summer, but it prefers a temperate clime.
Furthermore, the pear tree does not need particular soils, even though fears drought and poorly draining soils: it prefers light, fertile, irrigable, soils with a not too much acid pH, because it does not withstand the lack of magnesium or clay and chalky soils.
The bark of the pear tree trunk has deep crackings, while the foliage can be pyramidal or roundish. The leaves of this tree are ovoid, smooth, with a long peduncle, bright dark green on the upper side, while lighter green on the lower side.
The pear tree is a deciduous tree, therefore begins its winter sleep in winter.
The pear tree can have wood buds (small and sharp) and flower buds (slightly bigger):you can notice the difference between the two buds in Spring when they swell, while branches of this tree differ according to the species. Branches differ in fact in spurs (very short branches ending with a flower bud) and twigs (very thin branches about 10 cm long with different buds), and mixed branches, very strong branches with vegetative and flower buds.
Flowers of the pear tree are white, with five petals and hermaphrodite: they develop in corymbs (inflorescence, flowers in groups, formed by single flowers at different heights, but that thanks to the different petiole length end all at the same height). In a corymb you can find 7-10 flowers and the central flower is the one that blossoms last.
Most of the plants of the Pyrus genus are self-sterile, therefore the pollen of the same flowers will not fecundate, but pollination happens thanks to the intervention of bees or other insects.
The pear shape can vary and can be roundish or elongated, according to the varieties of pears cultivated. The fruit actually is a pome, thus a false fruit, as it derives only partially from the development of the ovary: in fact, as mentioned before, the feature distinguishing the real fruit is that it should result from fecundation of the flower; in the pear tree, therefore the “fruit” should be the central part (core), that is the part deriving from fecundation, and not the flower receptacle that develops around it (flesh) that becomes the main part and the edible part of the pear.
Also the skin of the pear is edible and can be of different colours: its colour differs according to the variety of pears cultivated and can range from green, to yellow, to red and even to rust-brown.
The harvesting of pears takes place from June to October, but the experts, cultivators of pears, producers of pears and companies specialised in the production of pears, decide the best moment to harvest this fresh fruit according to the resistance to the detachment from the plant, to the skin colour and to the flesh hardness.
With more than 5000 varieties of pears known worldwide, there are many varieties that are cultivated and produced the most in the fruit and vegetable sector. The variety of pears most cultivated in the Fifties in Europe were the variety of pears Butirra Giffard, the variety of pears Clapp's Favorite, the variety of pears Williams and the variety of pears Kaiser Alexander.
The production of pears is quite widespread worldwide, as shown by the cultivation of pears in China, that of the European Union countries, and the cultivations of this fresh fruit in countries of the North and South America.
The world major producer of pears is China (with more than 50% of the entire world production), followed by Italy and by the United States. At a European level, after Italy, the major producers in this fruit and vegetable sector are Spain, Poland, the Netherlands, France and Germany.
In the 70s-80s, in Europe, there was a reconversion process of the numerous soils used for the cultivation of fruit trees: this process caused a progressive reduction of the area dedicated to the cultivation of pears, especially at the expense of those varieties of pears that have been, in the course of time, always less appreciated by consumers, such as for example the variety of pears Passacrassana. The greatest number of explants took place in France and in Italy.
Starting from half of the Eighties, however, the production of pears, thanks to this process of reconversion, found new space for its development, and there was a slow but progressive recovery of areas, even though with differences in each country, arriving at today’s situation, that seems to tend to a stabilization of investments.
According to data provided by FAO, the world production of pears is increasingly growing and in 2004 were produced 17.9 million tons: China, above all, gave a strong impulse to the increase of the global offer, exceeding 10 million tons, about 57% of the entire world production of pears.
The huge Chinese offer is directed in great measure to the internal market; however, exports, that until 1999 fluctuated around the 100,000 tons, have recently soared, reaching 350,000 tons. The main destinations of the Chinese products are Indonesia, Russia and Hong Kong.
From a geographical point of view, the major areas for the production of pears are three:
- East, with China being the first world producer,
- Europe and the Mediterranean basin, with Italy that ranks second among the world countries that produce pears
- The American continent, with the USA third in the international ranking for the production of pears.
Countries such as Argentina, Chile and South Africa, for example export almost the entire production of pears, thus becoming the main exporters of pears in the world fruit and vegetable market, in spite of the low production levels.
The European production of pears is instead steady from about one decade, around the 2.4 million tons. Nowadays, Italy produces more than 35% of the entire production of pears, the 25% is produced by Spain, while in the Netherlands and in Belgium the productions of pears are around the 8-9%.
France, whose production until 1996 exceeded 300,000 tons, in the last decade has decreased its production around the 240,000 tons.
The production levels of the single countries of the European Union has recently changed in favour of the Netherlands and of Belgium, which since 2004 increased their production, producing more than 200,000 tons. They decided to cut down the apple growing in favour of the pear growing, thus, today these two production represent together the 20% of the European cultivation, compared to the 15% of the first years of 2000.
There are many differences among the major countries producers of pears on the international fruit and vegetable market, as to the time of trading of pears, especially because of the different variety range: in Spain, where there are more summer varieties, more than 50% of the product is placed on the market in July and August; in France, otherwise, where there are more late varieties of pears, much quantity of this fruit and vegetable product is placed on the market in August-September.
In Italy, because of the predominance of Fall varieties of pears, they are placed on the market mainly in September, October and December, with a decent distribution of the product also in the rest of the months, with the exception of May and June.
The different structure of the offer in the various EU countries producers of pears, inevitably influences also the exports policies, based mainly on the early varieties of pears in Spain and France and on the Fall varieties of pears in Italy.
In 2005-2006, the Italian exports of pears increased to 17% of the entire Italian production of pears, with a volume of exports of pears of about 154,000 tons. The Italian pears are mainly directed to the European fruit and vegetable market, with about the 93% of the exports of pears directed to the European Union, where stands out Germany as major reference fruit and vegetable market, followed by France and in the distance by the United Kingdom, Austria and Greece. Small quantities of the Italian fruit and vegetable product are directed also to non-EU countries, in particular to Russia, Switzerland and to Eastern countries such as Croatia and Albania.