PORTLAND — The Pacific Northwest pear crop may pick out near the estimates for this year, says Kevin Moffitt, president of The Pear Bureau Northwest in Portland.
The crop appears to be slightly under the Aug. 22 estimate of 18.3 million, 44-pound boxes but still ahead of the June 1 estimate of 17.6 million boxes.
Harvest began Aug. 2 in Medford, with Comice and Seckel, and is about 60 percent complete. It will end in late October with d’Anjou in the upper reaches of the Hood River and Wenatchee valleys.
“I think Bartlett may come in a little shorter than estimated and winter pears (mainly d’Anjou) maybe slightly above estimate in Hood River and slightly below in Wenatchee. So we come out a little less overall,” Moffitt said.
This year’s crop being more normal in development timing made it a more difficult to get an accurate June forecast, he said. It was early the past two seasons.
Early prices are strong, overall quality is good and labor is tight with some growers needing more pickers.
California wrapped up harvest of slightly over 3 million, 36-pound boxes of pears, up 29 percent from last year due to better fruit set from better winter chill.
Early fruit from the Sacramento Delta was pretty small, more had to sell fresh because of fewer canneries and prices were low, said Kyle Persky, sales manager at Rivermaid Trading Co. in Lodi, California’s largest pear grower and packer. It handles more than half the fresh-pack volume.
But later fruit from the Mendocino District was larger and good quality bringing good prices, he said.
“Washington didn’t have as much large fruit, which gave us a window,” Persky said. “We lose more customers to the Northwest every year.”
The California crop is close to 80 percent shipped with several weeks of shipping over 200,000 boxes per week, “which is good for us,” Persky said.
“Overall, it’s a fairly decent season given expected supply and where we’re at now. We’re pretty happy. Movement was good and we have limited time to sell,” he said.
California is too warm to grow d’Anjou and doesn’t store fruit for winter sales.
In 2016, the value of utilized pear production was $233 million in Washington, $148 million in Oregon and $93 million in California.
At 18.3 million, this fall’s PNW crop is 2 percent above last year’s and 7 percent below the five-year average. It’s the fourth year in a row the crop has been lighter than average. Hot summers are suspected of causing greater spring fruit drop resulting in smaller crops.
The Bosc crop is estimated at 2.5 million boxes, down 19 percent from last year and down 16 percent from the five-year average, Moffitt said. He blamed it on being a bit more cyclical in bearing, heat stress and the overall lighter crop.
Overall fruit size may be slightly smaller, peaking at size 90 (90 pears per box) instead of 80, he said. There is probably a little more fancy grade versus U.S. No. 1, he said. Export markets prefer fancy and smaller fruit, he said.
Domestically, smaller fruit has been selling well in pouch bags, which is a bright spot, he said.
Cork — decay-causing dimples under the skin — is an issue in Wenatchee and Hood River, Moffitt said. Randy Arnold, a Wenatchee Valley grower, said he probably has a 2 to 3 percent cork loss and some growers have up to 6 percent. It’s a calcium deficiency in the soil and fruit, he said.
It’s more difficult to control pear psylla and mites without certain pesticides used in the past, Arnold said. That results in more unhealthy trees, which increases susceptibility to cork, he said.
Six of his annual 24 domestic pickers didn’t come this year because they knew his crop was down, he said. He’s OK on labor but his neighbor needs 14 more pickers than he has and others are operating with less-than-full crews, he said.
Arnold said prices are starting off about the same as last year, which is “really good.”
The Sept. 22 average of industry asking prices was $28 to $32 per box for size 70s, 80s and 90s of U.S. No. 1 Bartlett, according to USDA.
Those prices are good and steady, as are prices in the mid to upper teens on smaller fruit, size 110 and 120, said Scott Marboe, marketing director of Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers in Wenatchee. Oneonta sells about 2 million boxes of pears annually for Diamond Fruit in Odell, Ore., near Hood River.
Cork is not a big issue and California’s larger crop this year was slightly ahead of normal, which resulted in some California buyers switching to Northwest pears a couple weeks earlier, Marboe said.