(UPDATED COVERAGE, July 30) 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 whole goal here is to take that long-term approach,” said Chris Zanobini, executive director of the California Pear Advisory Board, Sacramento.

The study benchmarked pear growers’ current level of participation in sustainable production practices, Zanobini said.

Of the industry’s 56 growers, 71% participated in the self-assessment. Of those, 95% reported using integrated pest management programs to minimize the application of chemicals and 5% of growers used pesticides to eradicate codling moths while the majority used mating disruption pheromones.

California pear growers were some of the first to use pheromones nearly 20 years ago, Zanobini said, when chemicals proved to be ineffective and expensive.

“That’s what really started to drive the industry in this sustainability direction,” he said.

The survey also found that:

  • 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.

“I think this really shows that the industry is going in the right direction,” Zanobini said. “Sustainability is a work in progress, and this gives us a point from which we can move forward.”

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.

Less 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.

The study group hopes to be able to conduct follow-up surveys in the coming years, Zanobini said.

UPDATED: California pear growers get good marks for sustainability