( Viva Tierra Organic Inc. )

The organic pear category continues to expand among California’s pear growers.

At Greene & Hemly Inc., Courtland, Calif., about 40% of the pears the company grows are organic, owner Doug Hemly said.

“We’ve been slowly growing,” he said.

The company, established in 1850, always has been committed to “growing as soft a program as we can,” he said, meaning that workers strive to keep the use of toxic pest management materials to a minimum, even with conventional fruit.

The company, along with other growers, has adopted an integrated pest management approach, using beneficial insects to control the ones that are harmful to the crop.

Mount Vernon, Wash.-based Viva Tierra Organic Inc., which markets pears from California, ships organic fruit exclusively, salesman Paul McCaffrey said.

“It’s building every year, for sure,” he said. “We can’t pack them fast enough.”

Some consumers have an affinity for California organic pears because they’re the first domestically grown pears of the season, he said.

David J. Elliot & Son, Courtland, Calif., has been growing organic bartlett pears for eight or nine years, said Larelle Miller, sales manager.

Some of the organic volume goes to retailers that specialize in organic or natural foods, she said, but most is sent to mainstream retailers who are increasing the amount of organic produce they offer.

Less than 2% of the bartlett and golden bosc pears that Scully Packing Co. LLC, Finley, Calif., sells are organic, sales manager David Thiessen said. But organics are a growing segment of the company’s offerings.

“Sales are definitely up,” he said. “Both major retailers and natural food stores ask for organic.”

The company offers organic pears to provide one-stop shopping for its customers, he said.

Rivermaid Trading Co., Lodi, Calif., has been growing organic bosc pears for more than five years, sales manager Kyle Persky said.

The company is experiencing “continued interest” in organic pears, he said.

Growers agree that a premium must be charged for organic produce over conventional product because of reduced yields and other challenges to producing a healthy crop.

“It’s difficult to farm organic pears,” Miller said. “You don’t get the same yields you do with conventional pears.” He said besides lower yields, organic crop volume tends to vary more from year to year.

Sustainability goes hand in hand with organic, growers say.

Scully Packing’s retail customers have expressed an interest in sustainability at least indirectly, Thiessen said.

Sustainability is a component of everything the company does, he added.

“Most irrigation is solid set to minimize waste and overflow,” he said. “We utilize solar power at all of our facilities, producing nearly 1 megawatt of electricity, and each facility has a documented recycle program.”

About six year ago, David J. Elliot & Son and other members of the California pear industry participated in a sustainability index survey, Miller said.

“It came out that California farmers are very high on the sustainability scale,” she said.

The California Pear Advisory Board website — calpear.com — summarizes survey results.

“The survey data show that the California pear grower community continues to use best management practices which demonstrate good stewardship of important resources and also care for employees,” according to the website.