PORTLAND — Pacific Northwest pear growers estimate this fall’s crop at 18.7 million boxes, which is 13 percent less than the record 2013 crop and 6 percent less than the five-year average.
The alternate bearing cycle of heavy years followed by light years is why the crop will be down. Last year’s ideal growing conditions topped off by hot temperatures right before harvest boosted fruit size and contributed to the large crop, said Cristie Mather, spokeswoman for The Pear Bureau Northwest.
“Thirty percent of last year’s fruit was jumbo size of size 70 and larger,” she said.
The bureau, the nonprofit marketing organization of pear growers and shippers, forecast the 2014 crop during its annual meeting, May 29.
The 2013 crop stood at 21.6 million, 44-pound boxes on May 23. A final figure will be tabulated in July after the last of the crop is sold. Previous records were 20.5 million boxes in 2011 and 20.1 million in 2009.
Despite its size, the 2013 crop is selling on schedule with 1 million boxes left to go and a normal slight gap between the end of the crop and the start of the 2014 harvest, Mather said.
Picking is estimated to start July 25 with Starkrimson in Medford, Aug. 1 in Hood River and Aug. 5 in Wenatchee, she said. It will wrap up in mid-October in the Wenatchee district, she said.
California’s pear crop looks like it will be 10 days to two weeks earlier than its normal early July start but crop size won’t be forecast until mid-June, Mather said.
Washington pear prices are down a little from last year but better than two years ago, said Dan Kelly, assistant manager of the Washington Growers Clearing House Association in Wenatchee.
The season-to-date price of d’Anjou, as of May 17, was $20.78 per box compared with $24.74 a year earlier, he said. Bosc was $21.57 per box versus $23.80 a year ago and $16.71 two years prior, he said.
“The pear deal stays fairly stable,” Kelly said. “It’s been in the 20-million-box range for a number of years. That won’t change much and prices should stay stable, too.”
Pear prices are not tracked in Oregon but generally are close to Washington prices. Washington produces the most pears, followed by Oregon. Together they account for 85 percent of the nation’s pears and California is 15 percent.
In February, Kevin Moffitt, bureau president, said Northwest pear sales were aided by less competition from California and Florida citrus and Chilean fruit because of frost damage.
The Northwest typically exports 35 to 40 percent of its pears. It looks like it will hit 41 percent at the end of the 2013 crop sales in July, Mather said.
Mexico is the top export market at 3.3 million boxes as of May 23, Canada is second at 2.7 million and Russia third at 535,000.
China, which just began accepting U.S. pears in February 2013, is at 185,000 boxes so far this season, is ranked sixth and is expected to grow.
“It’s looking great. We’ll have more promotions there next year with demos, TV programs and road shows with trucks of fruit into grocery stores,” Mather said.
Grower assessments remain unchanged this season at 38.5 cents per box for promotions, 3.1 cents for research and 3.3 cents for Pear Bureau administration and funding the Northwest Horticultural Council.
The bureau adopted an $11.2 million 2014-2015 budget, including $4.6 million on domestic promotions, $5 million on export promotions and the balance on research and operations, Mather said.