Reducing levels of fruit set is often desirable in many European pear (Pyrus communis L.) cultivars. With a negative linear relationship between crop load and fruit size, crop load management early in the season minimises wastage of tree carbohydrate resources and provides maximum benefits in terms of fruit size and quality. There are several tools available for managing crop load including hand thinning, chemical thinning, photosynthetic inhibition through shading or application of chemicals, mechanical thinning and pruning. While hand thinning is the most accurate method of reducing excessive crop loads, there are some major drawbacks. With awareness that the early thinning offered by chemical thinning provides distinct advantages with regard to fruit size and other quality parameters, chemical thinning is gaining increasing acceptance in pear production. Some chemicals are used worldwide for thinning, but there are differences between countries and growing regions on recommended application timing and concentrations. The risks involved in chemical thinning can be mitigated by use of a structured approach, using a sequential spray program with both bloom and post-bloom thinners. Knowledge of conditions that impact the carbon balance of the tree and the ability to make use of carbon-deficit conditions are likely to improve the predictability of chemical thinning. Mechanical thinning has potential as a thinning tool, with advantages over chemical thinning in that it is environmentally friendly, can be used in organic production and is not weather dependent. Although artificial bud extinction has not been trialled on pears to date, it has been shown to be economically viable in apple. As it is a precision crop load management method that minimises tree resource wastage, it should be given serious consideration. As growers require large annual yields of high-quality fruit, the aim of this review was to examine current and potential crop load management methods for European pear cultivars and provide a portfolio of available options that can be integrated into a systematic approach for managing crop load.
annual crop, carbon balance, chemical thinning, fruit quality, hand thin, mechanical thinning, photosynthetic inhibition, spur extinction