(Jan. 28, 11:55 a.m.) A farmworkers’ strike in Argentina is expected to delay the start and limit the size of the country’s export pear deal to the U.S., while demand for Chilean galas is expected to be down significantly from last year.

The 10-day strike by fruit pickers reportedly ended by the week of Jan. 26, clearing the way for the first bartlett shipments in the second half of February, about 10 days later than usual, said David Nelley, pipfruit category manager for Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group.

Assuming all strike-related issues are resolved, Los Angeles-based Bengard Marketing expects its first vessel of bartletts to arrive from Argentina Feb. 10-12, said Broc Bengard, vice president.

Bengard Marketing expects its first shipment of bartletts from Chile Feb. 3, Bengard said. But the deal is significantly smaller for the company.

“The quality (of Argentinean pears) is so much above Chilean pears,” he said.

In 2008, Chile exported about 94,000 metric tons of apples and 25,000 metric tons of pears to the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

On Jan. 27, the USDA reported a price of $22 for 4/5-bushel cartons of anjous 70-90 from Washington, about the same as last year at the same time.

Chilean galas probably won’t begin arriving until April 1-15, a month later than they sometimes do, said Randy Steensma, president and export marketing director for Nuchief Sales Inc., Wenatchee, Wash.

That’s because with the combination of a soft world economy and a record Washington apple crop, demand for import apples is expected to be considerably lower this year, Steensma said. Also, Chilean galas are expected to be on the small side this year — another hurdle to cracking U.S. markets.

“F.o.b.s are dramatically lower than last year,” he said. “Last year was a dream year. This year, reality is setting in.”

But on Jan. 27, the USDA reported prices of $22-24 for carton tray packs of galas 72-80 from Washington, about the same as last year at the same time.

Because it was pickers who were striking, a significant amount of fruit was left on trees past peak picking time, Nelley said — rendering it unusable for exports to North America.

As a result, pear shipments from Argentina could be down by 40% this season, he said.

In 2008, Argentina shipped about 37,000 metric tons of pears to the U.S., according to the USDA.

“It’s a real shame — the strike has disrupted what otherwise looked to be a great harvest,” Nelley said.

And it should, he said, significantly increase already-strong demand for import pears.

“Customers have been looking forward to fresh-market bartletts,” he said.

Complicating matters more, pears from Chile are expected to be on the small side this season, Nelley said.

Sizing on Argentinean pears, however, is expected to be good, with abundant supplies of 100s and larger, Bengard said.