( Courtesy Pear Bureau Northwest )

Northwest pear grower-shippers expected a comparatively light crop this year, although they said they should have plenty of fruit to fill all needs.

“It’s gonna be a decent crop, a little less than last year,” said Mac Riggan, director of marketing with Chelan, Wash.-based grower-shipper Chelan Fresh.

In early August, growers were reporting localized hail damage across the region, among other challenges.

“Although we don’t have a complete pear crop estimate available yet, we are expecting pears and apples to follow the pattern we have seen with the 2020 cherry crop,” said Tim Kovis, communications manager of the Yakima-based Washington State Tree Fruit Association

“Growers report expectations of a lighter crop, due to cool and damp spring weather during pollination. Although likely to be smaller than last year, this would still be a good-sized crop with adequate supply for the domestic market and the disrupted export market.”  

According to the Milwaukie, Ore.-based Pear Bureau Northwest, the region shipped about 16 million boxes of pears in 2019-20, compared to a four-year average of about 17 million.

Recent production peaks include more than 20 million boxes in 2011-12, 2013-14 and 2014-15, according to the Pear Bureau.

However, when the pear bureau released its first official 2020-21 crop estimate Aug. 20, the forecast called for 16.6 million 44-pound box equivalents of fresh-crop pears from Washington and Oregon, according to a news release — slightly above last season’s crop.

Organic pear production for 2020-21 for Oregon and Washngton is forecast at 1.96 million standard 44-pound boxes, according to the release.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as of Aug. 18, 40-pound cartons of wrapped bartlett pears from Northern California were $32-33.50 for size 70s; $32-32.90, 80s; $28.50-29.90, 90s; $25.50-27, 100s; $24.50-25.90, 110s; 120s, $24-24.90; and 120-135s, $24-24.90. 

A year earlier, the same product was $24-26.90 for 70s; $25.90-26.50, 80s; $20.90-23, 90s; $20-21, 100s; $18-19.90, 110s; $18-18.50, 120s; and $18-19.90, 135s.

Weather was an issue this year in the Northwest region, said Blake Belknap, vice president of sales with Selah, Wash.-based Rainier Fruit Co.

“As a result of hail damage in Washington’s southern region and a cooler spring in the state’s central regions, this year’s Northwest bartlett crop is coming in slightly short of original estimates,” Belknap said in late July. 

No Quality worries

Fruit that comes in will be good, though, Belknap said.

“Although lighter in volume than anticipated, the crop is expected to have great quality and provide consumers with an excellent eating experience,” he said. 

“With growing temperatures rising in recent weeks we expect bartlett harvest to kick off the season beginning of August.”

The Northwest pear crop will have “excellent marketing potential” this year, said Chuck Sinks, president of sales and marketing with Yakima, Wash.-based grower-shipper Sage Fruit Co.

“We’ve had a relatively mild growing season thus far, with heavier than normal rains in the late spring,” he said.

On the other hand, a heat wave ahead of the harvest could complicate matters, Sinks said.

“As far as actual fruit size goes, the heat will help determine that over the next couple of weeks, but right now, they are slightly smaller than at this same time last year,” he said July 21.

Harvest should be on schedule, with bartletts starting in the second week of August and red anjou in late August, compared to a three- to five-day-late start a year ago, Sinks said.

Bosc harvest will start in the second week of September and anjou in the third week of September, Sinks said.

Weather has “largely been favorable,” but the crop has “experienced some issues,” said Dan Davis, director of business development with Wenatchee, Wash.-based Starr Ranch Growers.

“The Hood River Valley has had some hail issues that have reduced the crop somewhat and should tighten supplies in portions of the season,” he said. “We anticipate being down between 10-35% across different varieties.”

Ample volumes

Nevertheless, there will be plenty of pears available, Davis said.

“With imports having wrapped up well, we’re anticipating that the pipeline will be relatively empty, once we have fruit coming off the tree in a few weeks,” he said. “The hail may impact some of the later storing fruit and the anjou season may be somewhat compressed. We’ll still have supplies into May and June on conventional red and green anjou.”

Hail damage was localized and varied, said Jeff Heater, board member at Odell, Ore.-based Columbia Gorge Fruit Growers and crop consultant with Western Ag Improvement LLC in Hood River, Ore.

“The crop is light,” he said. 

“We had hail damage last year and this year, just a different part of the valley. There are some blocks that may not even get picked, near Parkdale.”

Heater estimated about 2,000 of 15,000 acres in the Hood River Valley “got hit pretty good and almost that much again with marginal damage.”

Raleigh, N.C.-based grower-shipper L&M Cos. Inc., which has pears in Washington’s Yakima Valley, will have ample supplies, said John Long, director of sales and operations with L&M’s Union Gap, Wash., branch. 

“Looks like we have a good crop on the trees,” he said. 

“We’ve had great spring and summer, once we got out of frost season. Looks like we have a real quality crop. I don’t believe there’s gonna be any shortage of fruit anywhere.”

Wenatchee-based Stemilt Growers LLC anticipates increased pear volumes this year, said Brianna Shales, senior marketing manager.

“Timing will be normal, with late August/early September ads possible for bartlett and starkrimson,” she said. 

“Stemilt also has the tosca pear variety, which comes off the tree about 10 days ahead of bartlett and can help retailers spur pear sales even earlier.”

Stemilt expects plenty of summer bartlett and starkrimson varieties through the fall months, and then, in October, will have the winter pears of anjou, bosc, concorde and red anjou “more readily available,” Shales said.

“Weather has been great for pears,” she said. 

“We haven’t had excessive heat this summer, which is really kind to all fruit and, especially, pears. Should have nice, clean fruit and great qualities with a range of sizing.” 


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