CASHMERE, Wash. — Pear varieties are old and reliable, while new varieties in the pear category are notable by their absence.
There are varied reasons for the lack of pear varieties, but industry sources say traditional varieties such as bartlett and anjou are profitable.
Together, anjous and bartlett pears account for more than 14 million of the 19.1 million boxes in the 2011 Northwest pear crop.
There are still 60- to 80-year-old pear blocks in the Hood River that are commercially viable, said Craig Mallon, quality control manager for Duckwall-Pooley Fruit Co., Odell, Ore.
In that region, he said, gold bosc and bartlett have been popular planting choices for growers.
Still, it should not be as tough as it seems to break new pear varieties, said Randy Steensma, president and export marketing director for Nuchief Sales Inc., Wenatchee.
“If you can break in all these apple varieties, we should be able to break in a pear variety,” he said.
Greg Rains, horticulturist with Blue Star Growers Inc., Cashmere, said that over the past 20 years, growers have shown a lot of interest in new varieties and have planted a few new ones.
However, “the market has not rewarded them,” he said.
In fact, growers who maintain the standard lineup of green bartletts, green anjous and russeted bosc have had the most consistent returns.
Other than those varieties, growers recently have shown the most interest in red anjous, Rains said.
Part of the problem with acceptance of new varieties, Steensma said, is effort by marketers and cooperation by retailers.
“It is an uphill climb,” he said.
While consumers are very experimental with new apple varieties, they are not so much so for pears.
“It is very easy to get interest on an apple, but not on a pear.”
He noted that the Taylor’s Gold pear is a very good pear variety that should be an up and coming variety, but it does not appear to grow as well in Washington as it does in New Zealand.
“We will never have critical mass on that variety, even though it is a good variety.”
Concorde also is not catching on as some people expected.
While the concorde eats very well, it does have a tendency to bruise, said Keith Mathews, chief executive officer of FirstFruits Marketing of Washington, Yakima.
Packham triumph and some red varieties also have struggled to establish a foothold, he said.
Steensma said the best bet for growers would be to continue to work with what they have.
“Our best thing for growth is to work with what we have, and try to increase either distribution or consumption,” he said. “I think we can do better on both.”