YAKIMA, Wash. — A growing season that has been cooler and wetter than normal has significantly delayed pear maturity for Northwest shippers.
The pear crop in the mid-Columbia growing region is incredibly late, said Craig Mallon, quality control manager for Duckwall-Pooley Fruit Co., Odell, Ore.
“Normally, we start picking summer pears the middle of August. This year, we aren’t expect to start until Aug. 29. Meanwhile, anjous — which typically start at the beginning of September — won’t start until Sept. 18.”
Fruit sizing slightly off
Shippers said the fruit appeared to be sizing normally through mid-August.
However, the early cool weather could cause sizing for the Northwest pear crop to be down slightly, said Loren Queen, marketing and communications manager for the Yakima-based Domex Superfresh Growers.
Pears could come in a half-size to a size below normal, shippers say.
Winter pear sizes could peak on 100s rather than 90s or 80s, but warm weather late in the season could boost sizing before harvest, said Keith Mathews, chief executive officer of FirstFruits Marketing of Washington, Yakima.
Even so, the June estimate for the Northwest pear crop was 19.2 million 44-pound boxes, up 8% over 2010 and up 5% from the five-year average.
If it picks to expectations, the Northwest pear harvest would be the fourth largest ever, said Kevin Moffitt, president of Milwaukie, Ore.-based Pear Bureau Northwest.
Freezes in November and January caused damage to cherry orchards and hurt some apple and pears, Moffitt said.
Strong fruit conditions
However, the cool weather could be a blessing because the lack of extreme heat this summer has helped fruit conditions, Mathews said.
Other shippers agree that fruit conditions look strong.
“The crops looks super clean and we should have very good packouts on No. 1 grade,” said Randy Steensma, president and export marketing director for Nuchief Sales Inc., Wenatchee.
Mac Riggan, vice president of marketing for Chelan Fresh Marketing, Chelan, said there could be more of a gap between old crop and new crop than in most years, which could bode well for sales.
“There will be pent-up demand for the new crop,” he said.
Queen said the eating quality of the fruit is expected to be strong as well, with the cool weather expected to add firm texture to the fruit and provide optimum conditions for fruit sugars to develop.
The big player
By district, the largest growing region is Wenatchee, accounting for projected winter pear volume of 7.29 million boxes.
The Wenatchee growing region accounted for 48% of total Northwest winter pear production, compared with 11% for Yakima, 34% for the Mid-Columbia and 7% for Medford.
The Wenatchee growing region accounts for 66% of anjou production, 31% for bosc, 6% for comice, 31% for red anjou and 98% of concord variety output.