Organic pear production in the Northwest is expected to rise this year amid an uptick in demand.
“We peaked about 5% (organic) maybe about eight years ago, and it declined for a while,” said Kevin Moffitt, president of Pear Bureau Northwest, Milwaukie, Ore.
While some growers pulled organic orchards a few years ago to balance supply and demand, Moffitt said the current market scenario seems to have more demand than supply.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports the overall average f.o.b. for Northwest organic pears was $37.08 per carton in the 2012-13 season (September through June), compared with $23.73 per carton for conventional pears.
“In the past five years, we have probably grown from 3% of the crop (organic) to 5% of the crop, and the crops are larger,” Moffitt said.
The 2013 estimate for organic winter pear output in the Northwest is 613,700 cartons, up 7% from the five-year average of 571,097 cartons and up more than 15% from the 523,487 cartons in organic produced in 2012.
Organic fruit accounts for about 4.6% of the estimated 15.1 million carton 2013 Northwest U.S. winter pear crop and 6% of the 4.7 million cartons of Northwest summer/fall varieties, according to industry estimates.
Anjou pear output dominates Northwest organic production, with about 381,500 cartons expected this year, compared with 2012’s 331,000 cartons and a five-year average of nearly 333,000 cartons.
Organic bosc pear production is estimated at 170,800 cartons in 2013, compared with 139,000 cartons last year and a five-year average of 134,000 cartons.
Red anjou production is forecast at 46,500 cartons in 2013, up from the five-year average of 36,000 cartons and 2012 output of near 37,000 cartons.
Meanwhile, Northwest summer/fall organic pear output in 2013 is forecast at 285,600 cartons, up from the five-year average of near 272,000 cartons but down from the 346,000 cartons of organic summer pears produced last year.
Organic pears are promoted by the pear bureau’s efforts in retailers such as Whole Foods, said bureau president Kevin Moffitt.
Those industry-supported efforts include sampling organic pears at about 60 Whole Foods stores.
While that may not sound like a lot, he said retail sampling demonstrations cost between $200 to $250 per store.
The bureau also offers organic point-of-purchase materials and belongs to the Organic Trade Association, Moffitt said.
Yakima, Wash.-based Domex Superfresh Growers accounts for close to a third of organic pears in the Northwest, according to Howard Nager, vice president of marketing for the company.
Not all marketing companies handle organic pears.
Robert Wymore, vice president of operations for Diamond Fruit Growers Inc., Odell, Ore., said the company packs about 400 bins of organic pears as a custom packer, though no Diamond River growers are organic, he said.
“I think pears are pretty tough to grow organically, and I don’t know if the incentive is there for the growers to try to do it,” Wymore said.
Growers could choose to convert their organic apple and pear orchards to conventional if they cannot find an acceptable fireblight treatment, said Roger Pepperl, director of marketing for Stemilt Growers LLC, Wenatchee, Wash.
Since antibiotics are no longer permitted as a treatment, growers risk losing their orchards to the disease.
“Unless we find a solution, a lot of pear and apple ground will go out of organic,” Pepperl said.