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Pear cultivation in Spain

In Spain, the sweet fruit subsector continues to be the one making the greatest contribution to Spain's Final Agricultural Production, with 24% in 2016, despite accounting for a relatively small acreage (204,000 hectares) compared to other crops. Three species have traditionally led the production of fruit in Spain: apples, pears and peaches, followed by cherries, plums and apricots at a remarkable distance. The development of the total cultivated area of ​​these species shows stability over the years, with a slight decrease in the last decade due to recurrent crises affecting the three main species, especially peaches. Despite their decline, pear trees still have a prominent place, although very far from the peaks they reached in the last four decades of the twentieth century, when their cultivation was very important in all Spanish fruit growing regions, especially those of the Ebro Valley and Extremadura. At present, most pear trees are located in the Ebro Valley, with Catalonia and Aragon in the lead in terms of production volume.

Current situation and development of productions
The acreage devoted to pear trees has recorded a continuous decline over the last three decades, currently standing at 19,898 hectares, far from the 36,200 hectares in 1985. The production volume has also declined considerably, but not as much as that of apples. This has been due to its better adaptation to the climatic conditions of the main producing areas, characterised by dry and hot climates, except in some specific cases, such as that of the Conference variety. The reduction of the pear acreage is a result of the problems faced by the producers, such as the difficulty in controlling the tree's vigour, the irregularity of the productions and the difficulty in controlling pests such as the Psila in vigorous varieties, such as the Blanquilla or Ercolini.

The disappearance of the CCC in 1996 meant the loss of a very efficient and low-cost tool which, combined with the application of gibberellins, made it possible to obtain stable productions, and at the same time, facilitated the control of the Psila. The remarkable loss of active materials has also made it difficult and expensive to control the Psila, particularly in vigorous varieties. To this we must add the growing presence of fire blight in all producing areas of Spain in recent years.

As demonstrated in other countries producing noteworthy volumes of pears, such as Italy, coexisting with the disease is possible, but it is a permanent risk and entails a significant increase in production costs in treatments, inspection, control and eradication. In the post-harvest, the current situation is not easy either. The unavailability of active materials for the control of superficial scald from the 2013-2014 campaign meant implementing and integrating new technologies, such as dynamic atmospheres, ULO extreme, the application of 1-MCP (with the problem of evergreen in some varieties) or the application of coatings (edible coatings). 

In short, there are growing problems in the production and post-harvest that should be compensated by higher prices for the producers. All this has led to the gradual replacement of pear trees by other species, namely stone fruits (peaches, cherries, etc.), which are better adapted and yield a more stable production over time.

Most of the pear acreage is in the Ebro Valley, particularly in Catalonia, Aragon and Rioja-Navarre, where they have been traditionally cultivated. Together, these regions account for 80% of the production. In Catalonia, there is the PDO Pera de Lleida, which is marketed under the Edenia brand. For its part, La Rioja has the PDO Pera Rincón de Soto. The Region of Murcia (Jumilla, etc.) is also a noteworthy producer, highly specialised in the Ercolini variety, which falls under the PDO Pera de Jumilla.

Varietal situation and new varieties
The varietal situation of pear trees in Europe is characterised by each country's specialization in a limited number of varieties. Thus, in the case of Italy, the most important is the Abate Fetel; in Belgium and the Netherlands it is the Conference, which represents practically the entire production, while in France it is the Limonera or Guyot and the Williams.

Looking at the varietal distribution in 2017, the variety standing out the most is the Conference, followed by the Blanquilla, Limonera, Ercolini and Williams. The development of the productions shows a falling trend from 2002 to the present. The 80's and the 90's were characterised by the importance of the Blanquilla, a variety that for two decades was the most produced, the most popular and the most appreciated for its excellent taste (provided that both the harvesting date and the subsequent period in refrigerated storage were managed well). 

The biggest varietal change experienced since the 80's was due to the irruption of the Conference variety at the end of the 70's, which would record a strong development until the beginning of the 2000's, when it became the most produced variety in Spain and which currently represents almost half of the production. This variety has highly specialised production areas (Ebro Valley, Leon, etc.) with adequate soil and the right climatic conditions to obtain a quality production. Despite this, and due to various reasons, the yields obtained are much lower (up to 60% in some plantations) compared to those of the Netherlands or Belgium, which makes the Spanish productions less competitive.

With regard to varietal innovation, 150 new varieties have been evaluated between 1994 and 2017 within the framework of the IRTA variety and pattern evaluation program in Catalonia, and some of them have outstanding characteristics in terms of agronomic behaviour, shelf life in storage and taste quality.

Pear trees have traditionally been an important species in Spain, but they have been in continuous regression over the last two decades due to various issues related to the production process and the fruit's refrigerated storage. This regression has coincided with the growth of stone fruit species, which are easier to produce and have lower production costs. However, after the recurrent crises affecting peach trees, a greater diversification towards pome fruit species, such as apple or pear trees, has become necessary.

Unlike in the case of apples, there have hardly been any significant developments in terms of varietal innovation in the pear sector, and the production continues to rely on a few traditional varieties that ensure a good quality and which have very loyal consumers who are not prone to change. In spite of this, in the last few years, new bicolour varieties have been introduced on a commercial scale with a controlled development and a focus on club brands. This could facilitate the diversification of this species and help attract new consumers. In addition to providing different presentations in terms of colour, shape and size, these varieties are also innovative in terms of flavour and texture, combining European and Asian pear characters.

The greater technology and specialization required by pear trees, together with the impact of pests and diseases that are difficult to control, such as psyllium and fire blight, and difficulties in controlling certain post-harvest physiopathies, are still limiting factors for the cultivation of this species. However, the decreasing production and the future supply of new varieties are incentives to bet on a traditional crop that also plays a key role in the diversification of fruit production in Spain.


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