Very few European pears (Pyrus communis) are grown commercially in Kentucky, primarily due to problems with fire blight and late spring frosts. Asian pears (P. pyrifolia, synonym P. serotina), on the other hand, are more consistently productive in Kentucky in spite of these problems. Also called apple pears, Asian pears are crisp and juicy like an apple, but with the sweetness associated with pears.
Per capita consumption of fresh pears in the U.S. fell to 2.9 pounds in 2010, the first time in five years that it was less than 3 pounds. Fresh pear consumption stayed under 3 pounds from 2012 to 2016, and total pear consumption (fresh and canned) stayed under 5 pounds during that time. Production for fresh markets is steadier than processing volumes, which are more likely to show large changes from year to year. Kentucky-grown pears are mainly marketed through roadside markets and local retail outlets. The niche market for fresh Asian pears in Kentucky has grown since 2005, as more trees have matured to bearing age.
Most of the Asian pear cultivars that are available in this country originated in Japan. These have rounded, apple-shaped fruit, with either smooth or russetted skin. Japanese cultivars ripen at various times during the July to October harvest season in Kentucky. Chinese cultivars are more pear-shaped with smooth, green skin when ripe. Chinese varieties ripen late in the season. Asian pear cultivars can vary in their reaction to fire blight from moderately resistant to very susceptible. The ‘Korean Giant’ or ‘Olympic’ cultivar, which ripens late in the season, tends to be one of the more fire blight-resistant cultivars for Kentucky production. European cultivars vary in shape and juiciness, as well as skin color and texture. Resistance to fire blight and/or scab, in addition to some physiological disorders, is available. Only fire blight-resistant cultivars should be planted in Kentucky.