The Pacific Northwest is a hotbed for organic produce, but pears are a relative exception.
The region anticipates production in 2012 of about 831,000 44-pound boxes of organic pears, according to Pear Bureau Northwest, compared to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Aug. 10 estimate of nearly 30 million in total production.
That would be a decrease of 4% when compared to 2011 but a 12% increase over the five-year average.
The green anjou and bartlett remain the most abundant organic pear varieties, with the green anjou projected to yield 360,900 boxes, and the green bartlett estimated at 227,800 for 2012.
It’s a small share, but it is growing, said Cristie Mather, communications director with Milwaukie, Ore.-based Pear Bureau Northwest, which represents conventional and organic growers in the region.
“The organic crop has been steadily increasing in the percent makeup of the total crop year over year,” Mather said.
Selah, Wash.-based Rainier Fruit Co. said it expects an increase in organic pear production.
“We continue to grow our volume there,” said Suzanne Wolter, Rainier’s marketing director.
Rainier’s organic pear volume will be up by 20% over last year, but it still represents less than 10% of the company’s total pear volume, Wolter said.
“It’s still not a significant portion of our overall crop,” she said.
Other growers report limited but growing involvement in organic pears.
“It has a much slower pace than other (growers’ organic programs) have,” said Tim Evans, general sales manager with Chelan, Wash.-based Chelan Fresh Marketing.
Organic pears are more difficult to grow than other organic crops, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director with Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers Inc.
“They’re problematic, and, because of that, you’re not seeing a lot more pears go organic,” Pepperl said, adding that his company accounts for about 30% of the organic pears grown in Washington.
Pepperl said organic pears, despite their relatively small numbers, are an important category.
“Most of these national chains and strong regional chains have put in an organic program,” he said.
No produce program is complete without organic pears, said Addie Pobst, integrity-sustainability-import coordinator with Sedro-Woolley, Wash.-based organic distributor CF Fresh.
“The organic pears, for the region, kind of go hand-in-hand and make for a well-rounded program,” she said.