Pear harvest is well underway for the 2018 season. ( Courtesy Stemilt Growers LLC )

Pear marketers can expect a lot more fruit to market this year than they had in 2017, according to the latest forecast from the Milwaukie, Ore.-based Pear Bureau Northwest.

As of Aug. 1, the bureau was projecting a crop of 20.2 million boxes — or 7% above a five-year average.

It also would be an increase over last year’s “very small crop,” said Kevin Moffitt, the pear bureau’s president and CEO.

“The crop is progressing well with reports of large fruit of excellent quality on the trees,” Moffitt said Aug. 2.

Harvest was expected to get underway in earnest by mid- to late August, he said.

This year’s volume won’t be the only improvement over a year ago, said David Roby, brand manager with Yakima, Wash.-based Domex Superfresh Growers.

“Sizes will be larger this year compared to last. This means our customers will have opportunities to capture promotional sales for larger, higher-retail fruit,” Roby said.

Excess heat in some orchards prompted some growers to start harvesting bartletts earlier than normal, said Matt Roberts, sales manager at Mount Vernon, Wash.-based Viva Tierra Organic Inc.

“Our own growers are trying to hold off as long as possible for size,” he said.

The Wenatchee-based Washington State Tree Fruit Association anticipated an earlier-than-normal start to the pear harvest, said Tim Kovis, a spokesman for the association.

“Pear sizing is decent, and, so far, they are a nice clean crop,” he said.

Jeff Heater, a crop consultant with Hood River, Ore.-based Western Ag Improvement LLC, said it’s a “real nice” pear crop.

“They appear to be quality fruit, slightly bigger volume,” he said. “The increase is mostly in bartletts and bosc. Green anjous will be pretty similar.”

The first red crimsons were picked around Aug. 7 in the region around Hood River, with bartlett harvest likely starting around Aug. 10, Heater said.

“This is a little earlier than normal,” he said. “I’d say we’re five to seven days ahead of what used to qualify as normal.”

Excess heat was causing some concern, particularly about cork spot on green anjous and “a bit of sunburn” on comice pears, Heater said.

Retailers should have ample pear volume in numerous varieties this season, said John Long, director of the Washington division of Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc.

“The pear crop in the Northwest looks good at this time, and we expect to have plenty of bartlett, anjou, bosc, red pears, and varietal pears available this season,” he said.

Harvest of “most of the winter pear varieties” will begin in September and October, Long said.

Ben Johnson, president of Portland, Ore.-based Bridges Produce, said he is optimistic about the pear crop.

“A few varieties are up slightly in volume, and a few are down slightly, but nothing extreme,” he said.

Rivermaid picked its first crimsons in early August, he said.

Last year, Wenatchee-based Stemilt Growers LLC launched its Operation Flavor initiative to give the Northwest pear category a boost, said Brianna Shales, communications manager.

“The pear category has struggled the last decade, both because of increased competition from other produce items, and because the industry hasn’t delivered the greatest eating experience,” she said.

“Last year, Stemilt embarked on its Operation Flavor program to reverse this trend.”

Stemilt’s Rushing Rivers-branded pears make up about 12% of the Northwest crop, Shales said.

“This crop year is delivering the volumes and size profile we need to plan great bulk pear promotions at retail,” Shales said.

“Quality looks very strong.”

Everything was looking good for a healthy pear season at Rainier Fruit Co. in Yakima, Wash., said Andy Tudor, vice president of business development.

“The most important thing is to date is appearance,” he said.

“In our terms, we call this a clean crop.”