Wanganui people are leading the way in pear consumption because growers have introduced them to new varieties at the riverside market, grower Nick Tripe says.



The pear harvest began at his 9ha Mangamahu property on March 1. He has 8000 trees of 12 different varieties, and 15 pickers at work.



Mr Tripe is one who has educated Wanganui people about new pear varieties by selling them at the Whanganui River Traders' market. He said it had been a fascinating exercise.



"They have learned what a beautiful fruit ripe pears are. Wellington people don't know what good pears are like because theirs are either rock hard or rotten."

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The favourite variety so far, for Wanganui people, is a red pear called Crimson Gem.



Mr Tripe has the largest pear orchard left in the district and 300 tonnes of crop will be harvested by the time picking finishes in mid-April.



The fruit looks and tastes good this year but he said a frost on November 7 had caused some core damage and none of it will be suitable for export.



When the frost happened he initially thought the developing pears would simply fall off the trees.



"It caused me huge grief, and many sleepless nights."



However, they continued to grow. He's now hoping to sell them all over the North Island, especially in Wanganui.



It's looking possible so far - two tonnes sent to Auckland last weekend were well received and fetched a good price so this year's crop is not a complete disaster, he said.



"I have been a farmer for 55 years now and you take the bad with the good."

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His pear trees have been watered through the dry spell from the Wharekai bore, and will be packed at the Wharekai Packhouse. There were 120 tonnes exported from there last year.



He said Wanganui grew some of the best pears in New Zealand, and used to be the second biggest regional producer after Nelson. The heyday for the Wanganui pear industry was the early 1990s, when the exchange rate was favourable and prices were high.



There were 12 orchards in the district then, Mr Tripe said, but there are only four now - his, a Turakina orchard and two at Westmere.



The decline happened after marketing moved from ENZA to a whole range of other marketers. Compliance costs have also risen, and the high New Zealand dollar has reduced prices to growers.



New Zealand's two supermarket chains are now the main buyers of fruit, and Mr Tripe said the Wanganui industry was "dying a slow death".



"It's tragic. We've lost 30 full-time equivalent jobs through poor financial performance."