Pacific Northwest pears are logging record shipments at good prices despite a record large crop of a bit lesser quality.
Sales to the new market of China have exceeded expectations at 160,000 boxes and may grow another 10,000 boxes, said Kevin Moffitt, president of The Pear Bureau Northwest in Portland.
Season-to-date, as of Jan. 31, 14.2 million, 44-pound boxes of Northwest pears have been sold domestically and overseas compared with 13.3 million a year earlier and 12.4 million two years ago.
The total crop is 22.1 million boxes, surpassing the 2011 record of 20.7 million.
Moffitt attributed the record shipments to many factors.
While the percentage of top grade d’Anjou, U.S. No. 1, slipped from 85 percent last season to 78 percent this season, overall quality remains good, he said. Fruit is large and domestic in-store samplings doubled this season through December over a year ago, Moffitt said.
A national display contest is coming up in February and March which causes retailers to buy more fruit, he said.
Domestic sales have been further aided by reduced competition, Moffitt said. Chilean peach, nectarine, plum and grape crops have been decreased by frost and Florida and California citrus volumes are lighter because of frost last fall, he said.
Chile’s freeze probably will reduce its pear crop 30 to 35 percent and its export of pears to the U.S. probably will drop from 3.5 million last season to 3 million this season, Moffitt said. Argentine Bartlett may be down 10 to 12 percent, he said.
Meanwhile, China, which opened to U.S. pears for the first time a year ago, has taken 160,000 boxes of Northwest pears so far this season, up from 9,000 for all of last season, and could hit 170,000 boxes, Moffitt said.
The 160,000 is partial offset by a 64,000 reduction in Hong Kong, he said. Northwest pears previously flowed into China in a gray market from Hong Kong and there’s no need for that now since China is open, he said. Overall, China is a 87,000-box net gain so far, he said.
He had expected China shipments this season to be in the 125,000- to 150,000-box range so he is pleased with 160,000 to 170,000. He has said it could reach 300,000 in three years.
Chinese like red pears, which are almost sold out but 60 percent of what they’ve been taking are green pears which leads Moffitt to say the market is good for 170,000 boxes this season. Of green varieties, Bosc normally is available into May and d’ Anjou into July or August.
The Northwest’s No. 1 export market, Mexico, is up 21 percent from a year ago at 1.6 million boxes as of Jan. 31. Canada, No. 2, is down 12 percent at 1 million and Russia, No. 3, is up 67 percent at 432,000. Brazil, once No. 3, has slipped to No. 5 behind Colombia. Brazil, down 55 percent, is at 166,000 boxes and Colombia is at 271,000.
Exports totaled 4.9 million on Jan. 31 compared with 4.7 million a year earlier.
Pear prices and sales were boosted last year by a smaller national apple crop, but pear prices have remained good this season, above prices of two years ago when the previous crop record was set, said Dan Kelly, assistant manager of the Washington Growers Clearing House Association in Wenatchee.
Washington d’ Anjou, the largest volume variety, was at $20.50 per box on Jan. 25 compared with $23.64 a year earlier and $18.87 two years earlier, he said. Bosc was $21.64 versus $23.06 and $18.31. Bartlett was $21.01 versus $23.20 and $19.69.
Prices and sales could have been worse given a record crop of a little less quality, but “we’re pretty comfortable and look to a good finish in the second half,” Moffitt said.