California pear crop may hit late; volume likely normal

07/15/2011 01:54:00 PM
Chuck Robinson

The California pear crop is behind schedule this season, but it’s expected to result in more volume than last year.

California growers anticipate packing 4.1 million 36-pound box equivalents, said Chris Zanobini, president of the California Pear Advisory Board, Sacramento.

Most of the crop — about 3.2 million boxes — will be bartlett pears.

The crop estimate is larger than last year’s production, which was 3.6 million boxes, but it is smaller than 2009’s nearly 4.7 million boxes, Zanobini said. This year’s production should be about average for the past few years, he said.

Demand for California pears has been steady for several years, said Steve Johnson, marketing director for Johnson Orchards Inc., Ukiah, Calif.

Prices generally open in the mid- to high $20 range for large pears in 40-pound wrap packs, said Kyle Persky, sales manager for Scully Packing Co. LLC, Finley, Calif. The smaller fruit in 36-pound tight-fill boxes are typically priced in the midteens when the market opens, he said.

On July 13, 4/5-bushel wrapped cartons of U.S. No. 1 anjou pears from Oregon at the Los Angeles terminal market were priced at $26 for sizes 110-80, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported.

Persky said he expects good demand for large wraps, with plenty of promotional opportunities for midsized and small fruit.

Behind schedule

The early pear district in California is the River District, which includes the upper Sacramento Valley and the Sacramento River Delta, will likely be late getting started.

The River District produces about two-thirds of the state’s pears. The late district, called the Mountain District, includes Mendocino, Lake and El Dorado counties.

This spring’s unusually cool and wet weather slowed the California pear crop’s progress. Some growers in the River District expect to begin harvesting about July 18, which is about two weeks behind normal, said Atomic Torosian, partner in Crown Jewels Marketing and Distribution LLC, Fresno, Calif. Crown Jewels markets pears for Greene and Hemly Inc., Courtland, Calif.

David J. Elliot & Sons, Courtland, Calif., planned to begin packing its first pears, stark crimsons, on about July 15, said David Thiessen, sales manager. Bartletts are expected to be ready by about July 25. The company sells only what it grows and packs, he said.

Thiessen said the cool and wet spring did not affect pear quality, but sizing might be a challenge at the beginning of the harvest.

Promotable pear volumes should be available by about July 25, Zanobini said.

Torosian said River District pears need to be promoted aggressively because the window is short, from mid-July until the Mountain District and Pacific Northwest enter the market.

The River District is expected to produce 1.9 million boxes of bartlett pears, Zanobini said.

Growers in the Mountain District expect to begin harvesting pears in about mid-August, Zanobini said.

In late June, Johnson said Johnson Orchard’s mountain crops looked good with clean fruit. Johnson Orchards’ pears are marketed under the Eagle Peak label.

Johnson said the crop was developing slower than normal, and harvest was expected to begin relatively late. Johnson Orchards expects to pack pears from other growers in the River District on about Aug. 1.

It packs bartletts from the River and Mountain districts, and stark crimsons from its own crops in the Mountain District, Johnson said. Johnson Orchards expects to pack its own pears by about Aug. 8.

The largest volume pear variety grown in California is the bartlett, but production of other varieties is increasing, Zanobini said. Bartlett production is remaining fairly steady because they are heavily used for processing, where there is a limited market, Zanobini said.

Growers are diversifying crops with other varieties.

Bosc varieties, including bosc and golden russet bosc, are the second largest variety. This year’s bosc crop is expected to be large, with 700,000 boxes, Zanobini said. Other varieties and estimated production: stark crimson, 85,000 boxes; seckel, 34,000; comice, 24,000; sunsprite, 18,000; french butter, 10,000; and forelle, 4,000.

An additional 16,000 boxes of red varieties also are expected to be packed.

Torosian said he expects stark crimson red pears to be available first, with boscs and golden boscs ready about Aug. 8. Specialties, including seckel, forelle, comice and taylor’s gold, will be available later. He expects to market a slightly larger volume of specialties this season, although he declined to release specific numbers.

Persky said the growth in varietals during the past five years is related to a bigger focus on the pear category as a whole, instead of a focus only on bartletts.

In addition to bartlett pears, Scully packs bosc, hailey red bartlett, crimson, comice, seckel and forelle. Scully expects to pack about 10% more pears this season compared to last year, Persky said.

Organic

California growers expect to ship about 64,500 boxes of organic pears, Zanobini said. Most of those will be bartletts.

Organic production is about the same as it has been for the last couple of years, when the board began tracking it, Zanobini said. He expects to see organic production increase, even though the market for it seems unsettled.

“For a while, there was a pretty strong increase in demand for (organic pears),” Zanobini said. “But when the economic challenges started, pricing made a pretty big impact on demand.”

Zanobini said there is a market for organic pears, but it’s hard to tell how big it is or how fast the market is growing.



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