Partnerships help achieve supply-demand balance

11/13/2002 12:00:00 AM
Kevin Moffitt, guest columnist

(Nov. 13) The U.S. is the second- or third-largest pear producer in the world, depending on the Italian pear crop. The West Coast states of Washington, Oregon and California produce 98% of the commercial pears in the U.S.

Chris Zanobini, president of the California Pear Advisory Board, and I are the U.S. pear representatives in the World Apple and Pear Association. This association consists of representatives from 14 major pear and apple producing countries. WAPA can be an effective tool in overcoming some of the challenges and problems facing our industry.

Growers of apples and pears face the same problems worldwide. We need to act, or the farms and growers will disappear. By working together, we can overcome some of these challenges.

Pear production has nearly tripled in the past 10 years, reaching 14 million metric tons. Worldwide consumption also has increased, but not to the same degree, with fresh pear consumption rising 50% since 1995. Since production during that period has grown twice as fast, we now face an imbalance in supply and demand.

A look at the top pear producing countries shows China’s dominance, growing 50% of the world’s pears. However, most of the Chinese production is Asian varieties. Only 1% to 2% of Chinese production is in European varieties, which are the majority of production in the U.S., Europe and the Southern Hemisphere. But even assuming a 2% production in European varieties would put China at more than 160,000 metric tons of non-Asian varieties — on par with Australia.

NEED FOR ACTION

One look at the world pear supply gives you an idea of the need for action. WAPA is just one of the tools we are using to help keep growers profitable.

The goal is to establish a forum and clearinghouse to share crop, market and consumption information.

The pear bureau has shared market and crop information with Europe for more than 10 years and with South America for nearly five years, including on-site visit exchanges. The WAPA forum strengthens these coalitions and brings new information on areas such as Asia, while broadening the overall picture.

There are opportunities for more information and research sharing, including varieties planted, the age of production, new varieties being developed and consumer preferences in certain markets. This information helps our industry make better business decisions, especially regarding what to plant. Pear trees can take six to eight years before producing a profitable crop. A lot can change in that time.

Varietal information will become more important as production of certain varieties will be more limited to those areas where they grow best. Not all varieties do well in all climates. I believe there will be a continuing trend and emphasis on producing the best possible variety for a specific area or even microclimate. Marginal production — and varieties not well accepted by the consumer — will decrease and be replaced.

In short, WAPA can become a clearinghouse and forum to expand the knowledge base of our growers and the marketers of our growers’ crops in the quest to increase not only consumption, but to preserve farms and farmland through more profitable returns to the growers.

Another example of how we can work together on research is my proposal to WAPA delegates to conduct a worldwide literature review on the health benefits and the phytonutrients in apples and pears.

When a good opportunity or health benefit is identified or discovered, I’d like to see simultaneous press releases in the world’s capitals. This can provide maximum exposure.

We’ve surpassed some significant hurdles since the bylaws were adopted in 2001. However, one of the initial and continuing hurdles is language. This was addressed in the WAPA bylaws, which established English as the group’s official language.

But language remains a barrier. While all delegates speak English, there are still some problems, as some speak better English than others. We are still working on this issue.

Other challenges that had to be overcome include the logistics of the meetings. There are doubters around the world watching closely and asking what WAPA will achieve. We don’t want to be just another level of bureaucracy and another set of meetings. We agreed to work around existing meetings around the world.

Early discussions also revolved around the logistics of membership, fair dues and an equitable voting system. Getting through these challenges early, as we did at WAPA, is important in order to move the organization forward.

An ongoing challenge is that of merging philosophies. We are continuously drilling down on each issue, addressing only those that can be affected by this group and not wasting time on the others.

Other challenges that we are addressing include the need for more retail input, as well as identifying groups in Asia that can serve as representatives in WAPA. There is a real need to involve China, but attempting to identify representatives there has been difficult.

CONSUMERS IN THE LEAD/B>

In summary, I believe there are more advantages than disadvantages to cooperation. Coalitions and open communication can allow industries and countries to rise above the competitive side and allow groups to concentrate on increasing consumption while learning about new varieties in order to develop and bring them to market. Face it: Consumers are leading the demand curve. We need to respond.

Pear and apple producers are competitors, but healthy competition can improve production and benefit the industry. Our larger competition comes from the snack foods industry.

We have come together as representatives of healthy, tasty products, to work toward increasing consumption of these products and to bring a better product to market. We will be successful because I believe consumers and governments are becoming more aware of the benefits of a healthy diet. Governments realize that preventive costs are cheaper than treatment.

One way to move forward is through coalitions and partnerships. We have seen this movement in the retail industry and, closer to home, among the packers and shippers of our products. WAPA is an example of how this can work in the global production and supply chain.

— Kevin Moffitt is president and CEO of the Pear Bureau Northwest, a trade association representing 1,600 growers in Washington and Oregon.



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