A cool, wet spring was expected to delay the start of the California pear harvest by up to two weeks, and the state’s crop likely will be significantly smaller than a year ago, sources said.

Chris Zanobini, executive director of the California Pear Advisory Board, Sacramento, said the state’s total pear volume is expected to drop 10%, including up to 17% less volume for the fresh market.

The advisory board estimated the state’s fresh crop June 24 at 3.7 million 36-pound boxes, down from 4.5 million boxes a year ago.

However, Zanobini called 3.7 million a conservative estimate and added that the state could have closer to 3.9 million boxes for the fresh market.

Sales manager David Thiessen said David J. Elliott & Sons, Courtland, Calif., expected to begin its harvest around July 15. After cooling and preconditioning, shipping could start as late as July 19, he said.

Patrick Archibeque, sales manager for All State Packers, Lodi, Calif., said the late start should mean little competition for California pears because both imported pear shipments and Washington storage supplies should be winding down as California product enters the market.

“Allowing the imported fruit to work its way through the system is good,” Archibeque said. “The Washington state fruit will not be a major competitor for shelf space this season. The shippers in the Northwest did a good job moving their enormous 2009-10 crop through the system.”

Steve Johnson, marketer for Johnson Orchards Inc., Ukiah, Calif., said prices should be favorable for California growers as their season starts.

“It should make for a good market,” he said. “I hope we have an empty pipeline and a nice stable price. That helps retailers and growers.”

The USDA reported June 22 that supplies and movement were decreasing in Washington, where prices were increasing. In Yakima and Wenatchee, 4/5-bushel cartons of wrapped U.S. One anjou size 70-135s were mostly $22.

On the same day in Philadelphia, the USDA reported 18-kilogram containers of packham triumphs from Chile and Argentina were $20-22 for 70s-80s, while imported boscs were $28-30 for 70s.

Though spring rains delayed the California crop, weather was not expected to adversely affect quality, said Kyle Persky, sales manager for Finley, Calif.-based Scully Packing Co. LLC.

“It has been a more challenging growing season,” Zanobini said. “Growers have utilized the latest production methods and tools to produce a high quality pear crop. Also, with a large percentage of the crop going to the processing sector, the fresh market always receives the best quality fruit.”

Thiessen said Elliott & Sons expects its volume to peak for all varieties in early to mid-August.

“Everything will be packed and in the barn by around mid-September, but we will be shipping through October on most varieties,” said Thiessen, who also said he expects quality to be good.

Persky said Scully Packing expected to start harvest the week of July 19 with bartletts and starcrimsons from the Sacramento Delta district, but its volume will peak along with volume from the mountain district in mid-August. He said the company expects to ship product through October.

Atomic Torosian, partner in Fresno, Calif.-based Crown Jewels Marketing and Distribution LLC, said he expected a mix of sizes at the beginning of harvest and large-size bartletts by late July.

Bartletts will make up the largest percentage of the state’s estimated 3.7 million boxes with a projected 2.8 million boxes. Golden russet bosc and bosc are next at 401,500 boxes and 196,000 boxes, respectively.

Torosian said he expects harvesting of bosc pears to begin July 30.

Starcrimson is the largest of the red variety crops, with an estimated 91,500 boxes.

Despite a smaller crop this season, the California Pear Advisory Board still expects promotable volumes.

The advisory board is planning customizable back-to-school promotions with retailers in August, and it is partnering with Dallas-based Susan G. Komen for the Cure for an October promotion that coincides with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, said Carolyn Becker, marketing and national accounts manager.