Northwest logs record pear crop

Dan Wheat

Capital Press

A long, dry summer made for large pears and a record crop, which may pressure prices. China's market could be a relief valve.

The 2013 Pacific Northwest pear crop is the largest on record and of a little less quality than last year, which may pressure prices.

But three months into the year-long sales season, movement has been “pretty good” and “pricing has been pretty firm,” says Kevin Moffitt, president of The Pear Bureau Northwest in Portland. He hopes that continues.

The Pear Bureau recently completed a tally of the 2013 crop, showing it at 22.2 million, 44-pound boxes, 14 percent more than its June 1 estimate of 19.8 million boxes and 14 percent above a five-year norm. It also bests the previous record of 20.5 million boxes in 2011.

A long, dry summer caused fruit to size up well, resulting in a bigger crop, Moffitt said. A few harvest days lost to rain also allowed fruit to get larger, he said.

“We’re promoting to retailers that jumbo fruit is exceptional this year and that it’s a good opportunity to profit from large-size fruit,” he said.

Size 70 and larger pears make up 32 percent of the crop this year versus 20 percent last year, he said.

Quality is more average to below average, with 78 percent of Green d’Anjou at U.S. No. 1 grade compared with 85 percent last year, he said.

Marketers are looking to China to take some of the large crop.

China opened to U.S. pears in February for the first time. It had been closed due to concern Chinese pear orchards could get fire blight from Northwest pears.

Last season, about 9,000 boxes of Northwest pears were shipped to China. As of Nov. 1, 64,510 boxes have been shipped this season, Moffitt said. “We should hit the 125,000- to 150,000-box range,” he said. China may be at 300,000 in three years, he has previously said.

The size of the 20.5-million-box crop in 2011 caused sales and prices to suffer. Smaller and lower-grade fruit contributed to a mid-season slowdown.

The 19.5-million-box 2012 crop sold well and at record high prices because of a national shortage of apples that made more room for pears, Moffitt said.

“It was once in a very long time in pricing. Most likely we’ll be below that. Our hope is to be above two years ago, which would be a win,” he said.

“Last year’s prices were a bit of an anomoly with the shortage of apples, pears came up price wise,” said Dan Kelly, assistant manager of the Washington Growers Clearing House Association in Wenatchee.

“This year it’s down some but still ahead of last year,” he said. Whether that will continue, he said, is hard to say.

The season-to-date wholesale price of Green d’Anjou from Washington companies on Nov. 5 was $22.22 per box versus $23.41 a year ago and $20.32 two years ago, Kelly said. That variety averaged $25.40 in 2012, $18.77 in 2011 and $21.75 in 2010, he said.

Bartlett was at $20.57 on Nov. 5 compared with $21.54 and $19.09 and averaged $23.40 in 2012, $19.77 in 2011 and $19.84 in 2010.

Bosc was $23.93 on Nov. 5 compared with $24.22 and $22.24 and averaged $23.80 in 2012, $16.76 in 2011 and $21.53 in 2010.

No trade organization tracks Oregon prices, but they generally follow Washington’s.

As of Nov. 8, 6.3 million pears, 28.4 percent of the crop, had been shipped, Kelly said. That compares to 6 million and 31.5 percent at the same time a year ago and 25.3 percent two years ago, he said.

Of the 22.2 million boxes, 16,783,942 are winter pears and 5,388,624 are summer/fall varieties.