WENATCHEE, Wash. — While Washington pear acreage has declined 25 percent in the last 16 years, there’s no reason to think pears are in jeopardy, says Kevin Moffitt, president of The Pear Bureau Northwest.
Higher density plantings and a bump in the number of trees planted doesn’t fully offset the drop in acreage but enables Washington to continue to produce large pear crops, Moffitt told growers at the Northcentral Washington Pear Day on Jan. 17 at the Wenatchee Convention Center.
Washington typically produces 50 percent of the national crop with the other 50 percent split between Oregon and California.
A USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service survey of Washington tree fruit acreage, issued Nov. 8, showed a 4.7 percent drop in pear acreage from 22,008 acres in 2011 to 20,965 in 2017. The peak was 28,000 acres in 2001, Moffitt said.
There was a bump in trees planted between 2006 and 2011. They are just now coming into full production. Trees are planted at a higher density — 397 trees per acre, up from 191 before 1996.
“With the right weather conditions, we can still produce a large crop. Over time, if we continue to lose acres, that would be concerning. At this time, we can still have full and increasing crops with the right conditions. Pears are not going away,” Moffitt said.
The Pear Bureau’s Jan. 12 crop report shows the 2017 crop at 17 million, 44-pound boxes, down 5 percent from the 2016 crop and down 7 percent from the 18.3 million-box Aug. 22 estimate. It’s 13 percent below the five-year average of 19.6 million boxes.
The crop is smaller from more cork than anticipated in Wenatchee and Hood River d’Anjous, Moffitt said.
Cork is decay caused by a calcium deficiency that’s usually accentuated by heat.
As of Jan. 12, 53 percent of the 2017 crop had been shipped versus 59 percent a year ago and 62 percent two years ago. Movement is slower because of a later harvest, Moffitt said.
Bartlett and Starkrimson are down 20 percent from last year and moving well, he said. Bosc is down 23 percent and moving well while green d’Anjou is up 12 percent and red d’Anjou is up 11 percent and hopefully will begin picking up in sales, Moffitt said.
Exports are down just 100,000 boxes from the same point last year. Due to the smaller crop more small fruit, typically exported, is being held for domestic sales in increasingly popular pouch bags, he said.
Prices are strong.
The Jan. 18 average of industry asking prices in Wenatchee and Yakima was $30 to $36 per box for sizes 70s, 80s and 90s U.S. No. 1 grade Bartlett, according to USDA. That’s up $2 per box on the low end and $4 on the high end from Sept. 22.
Jan. 18 prices were $25 to $30 for the same sizes and grade of d’Anjou. It was $28 to $34 for 70s and 80s No. 1 Bosc and $26 to $32 for 90s.