Experimenting With New Pear Varieties To Grow New Markets In NC

Operator Name: Paul and Kristi Marshall
Production: Fruit
Location: Bethany, Rockingham County, NC

“The establishment of a pear orchard will allow us to recover lost tobacco income while providing fresh fruit and pick-your-own options for our customers. [It will] …exhibit to local farmers the possibility of additional income by producing fresh fruit to residents, local farmers markets, and restaurants.”-Paul Marshall

Paul and Kristi Marshall from Rockingham County needed a niche crop to supplement their pick-your-own and vineyard operation. The Marshall’s grew up in a small community in southwestern Rockingham County called Bethany, both being raised in tobacco families. The fifth generation tobacco farmers spent their early years helping out in the tobacco fields and their family’s kitchen gardens. In 1990, they decided they would buy a 63 acre farm in the Bethany community and tend to the land that they both had called home for their entire lives. The family had grown 10 acres of tobacco and five acres of grain until 2005 when they decided to grow crops that people could directly consume, expanding their vineyard and vegetable production and getting out of tobacco all together. The Marshall’s have two sons, a daughter, and three grandchildren.

In 2009, the Marshall’s applied for a TCRF grant in order to fund the installment of European and Asian varieties of dessert pears. The dessert pears would allow the family to market a fruit crop that would be special to their operation; providing a niche crop and cornering a market for high quality, fresh exotic pears that are not widely available in North Carolina. The pears will help the former tobacco growers recover losses from tobacco’s waning effect on the family farm. Dessert pears are mainly produced in the western United States and are largely untested in the eastern part of the country. The Marshall’s are taking a risk by trying to cultivate the fruit but realize that being the very first successful producers could help them in securing markets and allow them to have a competitive advantage over other orchardists in the state. They are using some of the TCRF grant award to partner with the NC State Cooperative extension and NC State University to intensely monitor the soil and plant health as they trial varieties of pear trees. The monitoring and record keeping will help them understand the new crop in their specific area and make the changes necessary to optimize production based on their observations. Major challenges they forsee in growing the dessert pears are fire blight disease and winter injury. The Cooperative extension will assist them in selecting tree varieties that have resistance to fire blight and are also winter hardy.

The Marshall’s anticipate planting 120 trees in the fall along with installing fencing and protection for the saplings with stakes and tubes. Since orcharding is a long term project, the farm will not see returns on the orchard installment until the trees start to bear marketable fruit 4 years after planting. Until then, the Marshall’s will need to spend time mulching, fertilizing, and weeding the area around the trees while also protecting them from potential frost damage. When the plants do begin producing fruit, they hope to see a yield of 2 to 3 tons of pears per acre. Once the trees are fully grown, they expect to produce an additional $6,000 to $6,500 with the fall harvest.