In the 1990s the first blushed pear varieties were grown in SA, which has since become the market leader for blushed pears. Of these, Cheeky® only made its debut in 2009 and continues to show promise for pear growers.
Carmé Naudé and Dr Leon von Mollendorff
While the man behind Cheeky® is Taaibos Human from the Agricultural Research Council (ARC), Culdevco was responsible for the commercialisation of the cultivar. This proudly South African blushed pear variety was the third significant addition to the range of pear varieties bred over two decades by the ARC, and has been making waves since. Being an early ripening variety, Cheeky® serves as a bridge between blushed pear varieties such as Rosemarie and Flamingo and in the later season, Forelle. When this variety entered the market, it enabled the industry to have blushed pears available throughout the season.
The majority of Cheeky® plantings are in the Ceres region and take up 51% of the total hectare plantings. Wolseley/Tulbagh is second on the list with 14%, Villiersdorp/Vyeboom follows with 11% and Groenland and Langkloof with 8%. The rest of the Cheeky® plantings are divided between Groenland, Langkloof East and West, Southern Cape, Klein Karoo, Worcester, and Hex Valley. After the winter of 2018, an additional 80 ha were planted, which brings the total plantings of Cheeky® in SA to 462 ha. About 2/ 3 of these plantings are already in the production stage and the rest is in the vegetative stage. Com-pared to other pear cultivars planted over the last six years, Cheeky® has shown a 100% growth rate from 232 ha in 2013 to 462 ha in 2018. This exponential increase in volume, coupled with the limited timeframe before the Forelle harvest, placed added pressure on growers, packhouses and marketers. This was also possibly one of the reasons for an increase in rub and scuff marks during the 2018/2019 fruit season.
Leading exporters of Cheeky® also felt that the volumes of blushed pears harvested between week three and five increased significantly over the last few years. Growers and marketers are encouraged to carefully select pear cultivars to prevent the oversupply of blush pears in the market place, especially if the pears don’t have long storage ability.
The red colour development and pack out of Cheeky® was very good this past season. Overall, the Cheeky® pear developed a bright red blush quite easily. The intensity of the red blush is not affected negatively by heatwaves in January to the same extent as other blush varieties. And the occurrence of internal breakdown was limited to insignificant levels when harvested at the recommended maturity (for more detail, see recommendations below).
Cheeky® is genetically susceptible to rub/scuff marks if harvested prematurely. In the 2018/2019 fruit growing season there were more fruit drops, punctures and rub marks on all pears due to high wind speeds and cooler weather. Rub marks are in-creased if there is more than one pear per bunch, or if wilted branches and trees are not taken care of. Having the right temperature during picking and packing of pears is critical to the elimination of marks. Therefore, the harvesting of Cheeky® pears should be done during the cooler periods of the day, below 28°C. Growers are also encouraged to ensure that their workers wear soft gloves for the picking and packing of pears. Cheeky® should also be placed in plastic, rather than wooden bins. Cartons packed incorrectly compromise fruit appearance, which is further impacted by transportation and handling.
Cheeky® has enjoyed a good reception in the market, thanks to its attractive blush colour, taste and, especially fruit size. It’s regarded as a high-value pear cultivar, though prices were more under pressure during the last season, like for most other pears. Some exporters experienced smaller fruit size on Cheeky® compared to previous seasons. Unfortunately, the smaller fruit sized Cheeky® competed with other smaller size blushed cultivars, such as Rosemarie and Flamingo.
Cheeky® achieved high scores in the taste evaluation that was conducted by the Horticulture Department of Stellenbosch University a few years ago. The study included other well-known pear cultivars produced in SA and Cheeky® received a score just below that of Rosemarie (which was the pear with the best taste), but much better than Forelle. So far, there have been no negative comments from overseas customers regarding the taste of Cheeky® and SA exporters all agree that the taste is acceptable to the market.
During the 2018/2019 season, a total number of 493 081 equivalent standard pear cartons of Cheeky® and Cape Rose were exported (448 207 Cheeky® and 44 874 Cape Rose). Europe holds the biggest share of the pear market (37%) followed by the Middle East (19%) and Far East Asia (17%). Exports to Russia are about 13% and the UK 6%.
Recommendations for the handling of Cheeky® fruit
According to the set minimum export standards (as indicated on the DAFF website), Cheeky® fruit must be harvested with a firmness of between 6,3 and 8,0 kg (using a penetrometer with a 9 mm probe). However, growers who had harvested Cheeky® between 6,8 kg and 7,2 kg had significantly fewer defects and fruit still reached overseas customers in a very good condition.
• Fruit with a firmness higher than 7,8 kg is more prone to rub and scuff marks, while fruit harvested below 6,3 kg firmness is significantly more prone to internal break-down when cold-stored for periods longer than six weeks.
• Although the red blush development was not a major problem during the past season, it is recommended to increase the colour specification of Cheeky® to elevate its status. Therefore, Cheeky® fruit should be packed between photo one and seven using the P16 colour chart, while fruit equal to photo eight to 12 can only be packed and marketed as Cape Rose (the variety name of Cheeky®).
• One of the positive characteristics of Cheeky® is its fruit size. The thinning of its trees must be done effectively. As for the yield, it should be between 45 to 55 tons p/ha. Higher yields can result in smaller fruit sizes. Therefore, attempting to increase the tons p/ha at the expense of fruit size Is not advisable.
• Thin down to one fruit per bunch, if your number of fruit per tree allows it.
• To alleviate rub/scuff marks in future, it is recommended to increase the minimum standard for rub/scuff marks from A4B4 to A3B3, using the
colour chart P 14 (see under Packham’s Triumph wind marks).
• Schedule an annual combined, technical and marketing meeting, to
share the latest information and recommendations between growers,
exporters and technical advisors.
Closing remarks Cheeky® has certainly added significant value to the South African range of blushed pear cultivars over the last ten years. If growers and exporters strictly follow the guidelines and recommendations mentioned alongside, Cheeky® will continue to be a favourable pear player in the world markets.