Fruit & Vegetable Magazine

Features Production Research
Sunset on Sundown?

So, what’s next for the new Sundown pear that’s larger and arguably better tasting than the best-known Bartlett variety?

October 2, 2008  By Jim Meyers

So, what’s next for the new
Sundown pear that’s larger and arguably better tasting than the
best-known Bartlett variety?

So, what’s next for the new Sundown pear that’s larger and arguably better tasting than the best-known Bartlett variety? Growing it is the obvious answer, but first it must be “lawyered” to protect the federal government’s plant breeder’s rights and have in place commercial licensing agreements.

It could be four years before any large volumes of Sundown trees are in the hands of growers and 10 years in total before the variety is widely available in grocery stores. 

That delay could add a year – four years, not three – before any trees are in the hands of growers who will have to make some hard business decisions now that their only market for second-grade processing pears has shut down. And, since it takes six years to grow a tree, Sundown pears may not be widely available in grocery stores for 10 years.


Budwood would have to be grafted onto rootstock in August in order not to miss a year and as of the end of July, that didn’t seem likely, said a somewhat frustrated Dr. David Hunter with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

He’s the plant breeder who brought to fruition some 35 years of research into developing fireblight disease-tolerant pear varieties, including Sundown, that ripens in early October and is larger and juicier than the workhorse Bartlett variety that ripens three weeks earlier. 

Right now, there’s only about five acres of Sundown grown on five test plots in Ontario – four in Niagara and another in Simcoe – and that’s not nearly enough to meet any large-scale demand by national grocery store chains.

And now half of that acreage grown in just one test plot is threatened by development. For a number of years, Niagara fruit grower John Fedorkow has leased land belonging to the Alymer and Del Monte label canning plant in St. Davids. It closed in June and there’s plans to build houses on 50 acres of that land that’s in Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is constrained from development because it’s all prime agricultural land in the Ontario Greenbelt.

 “The only thing stopping it is its industrial zoning,” Fedorkow said, and any rezoning to residential would be at least two years down the road.

He stands to lose an eight-year-old orchard that, besides being a proving ground for new varieties, is just coming into its most productive crop years and could be in production for another 20 years.

That has to be upsetting to someone who has babied the trees from the beginning when he laboriously angled the young branches out from the trunks of the trees using cocktail (tooth) picks in order to achieve a near perfect central leader training system. He would hate to see the trees – now some 12 feet high – ripped out to make room for houses. 

John Fedorkow with his 2008 crop of Sundown pears. The crop was in the process of being thinned in late July in a field near the former Alymer and Del Monte canning plant. Fedorkow is in danger of losing his orchard to a housing development.

“But it wouldn’t be the end of the world – it’s just an orchard,” said Fedorkow, 51, whose 14-year-old son collapsed and died last summer. “If you can live through that, you can live through anything.” 

While Sundown is touted as Ontario’s fresh fruit pear of the future, Fedorkow is more enthusiastic about yet-unnamed Harovin 620, which, from a grower’s perspective, is easier to pick than Sundown, which is more prone to broken stems. Besides HW620 he has 2.5 acres of the Sundown variety on the seven-acre test site as well as canning varieties Harrow Crisp and Harrow Gold and a few Bartletts.

Sundown sizes up better than the workhorse Bartlett variety and trees bear more fruit. Fedorkow spaced his trees 12 feet apart with 18 feet between rows and feels he could have planted them closer together (10 x 16) and increased production by 25 per cent.

Leo DeVries from Fenwick, located above the Niagara Escarpment, is also in the in the federal CAN-ADAPT fireblight test program. He spaced his 150 Sundown trees 10 x 20 and feels they could be spaced 10 x 18. Many of the varieties in his six-acre test plot are canning varieties since that’s what the industry wanted when testing began and the fruit processing plant was owned by Nabisco Foods.

“Times change,” he said.  

It’s likely this year’s limited crop of Sundown pears will be marketed through wholesalers to upscale markets in Toronto and Montreal, Adrian Huisman, Ontario Tender Fruit Producers’ Marketing Board manager, said in late July.

The public got a taste of the new pear at last fall’s Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto and were asked (also online) to vote for a name for the up-to-then HW614 variety. Sundown was the hands-down winner, getting 6,000 of the 11,000 votes cast. Other possible names were Harovin (the combination of the Harrow and Vineland Station federal research stations) Bounty, Pride, Prime or Gala.

“It created a lot of interest and people would like to try them but, unfortunately, they’re not available,” Huisman said.

“The buzz created may have been a bit of a wasted effort other than making Agriculture Canada look good because it did something,” he said, adding that growers have to order the trees to start the ball rolling.

Dr. Hunter has a different take on the promotion that saw some 25,000 Sundown pears from Fedorkow’s orchard given away.
“As an outreach to the consumer public, it was a good experience,” he said. “It let them know what we are doing and, hopefully, there will be enough product on the market to maintain that interest.”

By the time Sundown is readily available, there’ll be a new generation of palates to win over. By whetting the public appetite now, it’s hoped a demand will be generated and growers will want to plant the Sundown variety when it’s available.

The public got a taste of the new pear at the 2007 Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto. They were also asked to vote for a name for the up-to-then HW614 variety. Sundown was the hands-down winner, getting 6,000 of the 11,000 votes cast.

But legal red tape regarding plant breeder’s rights and commercialization licences are putting a hold on propagation. Dr. Hunter said he is applying pressure to at least get propagation licences in place or risk losing a year in bringing the variety to market.

“If budwood isn’t propagated in August, a year will be lost,” Dr. Hunter said in late July.

His personal philosophy is “if it’s good enough to be introduced as a variety, (then) get it out there and let the marketplace
decide if it’s a success or a failure.”

The development of Sundown and other recently named varieties goes back 35 years to a time when fire blight was becoming a problem in orchards. The bacterial disease enters succulent tissue at flowering time and kills young pear shoots that look like they’ve been torched by fire. 

Research began at the Harrow station near Windsor and moved to Vineland Station in 1995. Four years later, four sites in Niagara were chosen because for field testing because they are so geographically diverse – Grimsby, the traditional pear growing area in the west end;  Fonthill on the Niagara Escarpment; Lakeshore Road on Lake Ontario, and inland in St. Davids. The fifth test site is in Simcoe.

Print this page


Stories continue below