Although the 2012 California pear crop is expected to be about 11% smaller than last year, grower-packer-shippers say they’re excited about this year’s market and quality prospects.

“The crop seems to be fairly clean, and we escaped most of the weather issues we had last year,” said Atomic Torosian, a partner in Crown Jewels Produce LLC, Fresno, Calif., which has handled sales of conventionally grown pears for Greene & Hemly Inc., Courtland, Calif., for 20 years.

“We shouldn’t have a big overlap from the Northwest. The pipelines are kind of cleaned up and drying up, so we’re all optimistic that we’ll have a good pear season.”

Torosian said he expects the first bartletts to begin from the River District on July 10-13. The red Starkrimson started about a week earlier.

Crown Jewels Produce transitions to golden boscs toward the end of July or the first week of August, packing bartletts and golden boscs through the end of September or early October.

At its June 19 meeting, the California Pear Advisory Board, Sacramento, released an initial crop estimate of slightly less than 4 million 36-pound box equivalents for all varieties.

Bartletts, which comprise most of the crop, are expected to account for about 3 million boxes.

That compares to the 2011 crop, which ended up with about 4.2 million boxes of all varieties and 3.3 million boxes of bartletts.

Much of this year’s decrease in bartlett production comes from the River District, which saw spotty hail damage this spring.

Bucking the trend

However, David J. Elliot & Sons, Courtland, expects to handle slightly more volume from the River District this year than in 2011, when hail damaged some of its crop, said David Thiessen, sales manager.

“It’s going to be up, not so much because of the yield but because we didn’t get hit by hail,” he said.

He described the River District crop as bright and clean.

In addition to bartlett pears, which are the firm’s bread and butter, David J. Elliot & Son also handles golden boscs, starkrimsons, comice, french butter, seckel and taylor gold varieties.

By promoting more than one variety, Thiessen said retailers can grow overall category sales.

“If you throw another variety in there with the bartletts, it can give you a bump in the overall category without cannibalizing your bartlett sales,” he said.

Scully Packing Co. LLC, Finley, Calif., expects to pack about the same volume as it did last year since most of its production is in the Mountain District, which encompasses Mendocino and Lake counties, said Kyle Persky, sales manager.

In late June, Persky said he expected the River District to start the week of July 16, with the Mountain District starting the week of Aug. 6.

This season should be about a week earlier than last year’s record-late start.

“It’s hard to say what a typical start is any more,” Persky said. “Over the last few years, we’re moving more toward a mid-July start.”

Fruit quality and sizing appears good from both production areas, he said.

Strong demand at the start

With pears from the Pacific Northwest and Argentina expected to be gone from the market when California starts, Perksy said it may take about a week for the channels to become full, “which is great.”

“It’s a good indication that pear movement is good and the category is doing well,” he said. “I think we’re expecting strong demand from the start, and I think the market will adjust.

“Once the pipeline gets full, generally in California the prices go down. I think this year we’re expecting a more stable market.”

Steve Johnson, marketer for Johnson Family Ranch, Ukiah, Calif., said he’s hopeful about this year’s crop.

“It’s shaping up very well,” he said. “We have a very clean crop here in the Mountain District.

“I think it’s a slightly above average (-sized) crop, but it’s the kind of crop you want to have ― not huge but not small.”