A smaller overall Northwest pear crop than last year and Russia’s blocking of U.S. fruit may result in fewer total exports in 2014-15, but ample demand in Mexico, China and other markets should keep exports as a key component of overall movement.
Export sales were near best-ever levels for the record-setting 2013 Northwest pear crop., said Jeff Correa, international marketing director for Milwaukie, Ore.-based USA Pears.
Overall Northwest pear volume was rated at a record 22.6 million 44-pound boxes in 2013, up from the previous record of 20.8 million cartons. For 2014, the total Northwest pear crop was estimated in August at 20.2 million cartons, down 6% from the 2013 crop and about 2% up from the five-year average.
Accounting for about 40% of all volume, export sales for USA Pears for the 2013-14 season totaled about 8.8 million cartons through May. June and July statistics not been tallied in July, Correa said, Northwest exporters will at least threaten the existing export volume of 9.2 million boxes.
Nearly all Northwest U.S. pear exports are conventional fruit. Correa said importers in Singapore and Hong Kong take organic pears in small volumes. A developing e-commerce market in China could open the door for more demand for organic fruit, he said.
Correa said the Russian import ban on U.S. pears — part of broad sanctions against U.S. ag exports related to the U.S. response to Russia’s role in the Ukraine conflict — will hurt.
“While we think we will be able to absorb some of the volume numbers by going to other markets, particularly Mexico, it is some of the varieties (usually sent there) may be more difficult to find similar export markets,” he said.
With Russia the No. 3 market for Northwest pears, Correa said importers there preferred second-grade red anjous and forelles. Forelle could be the top challenge, he said, but the Middle East is a possible focus.
Southeast Asia may also present opportunities for forelle.
Russia’s sanctions may not reach a pressure point until December and January, when supplies of meat and fruit could start to become scarce for the Russian consumer.
Correa said the secondary effect of the Russian import ban also likely weaken the potential for shipping to Europe. Because Europe’s growers have also been hit by the sanction, there may be increased competition with European pears in the Middle East, Asia and other export markets.
On a bright note, China opened up as a market in January 2013, with exporters sending just a few containers to the country at the end of the 2012-13 season. In the 2013-14 season, Northwest pear exporters expected to ship about 125,000 boxes to China, but large fruit helped them move more more than 180,000 boxes, he said. That put China as the seventh-largest market for the pears.