Group has only two canners to negotiate prices with now
By DAN WHEAT
YAKIMA, Wash. -- With further consolidation of the Pacific Northwest canning pear industry this past spring, the Washington-Oregon Canning Pear Association is seeking comments from its members about its future.
"The consolidation of processors certainly changed the dynamics of this year's price negotiations and there is no doubt that there will be more changes in the future," Jay Grandy, association manager, wrote in his September newsletter to some 1,300 members.
The association's board will be "assessing the environment and adjusting" and wants member comments and ideas about the role of the association and future of the bargaining process, Grandy wrote.
He listed contact information of 13 board members in the newsletter so growers may send comments to them prior to a mid-February annual board meeting.
"I'm not suggesting anything here, I'm just saying if you have ideas we'd like to hear them," Grandy told Capital Press. He noted there's no Northwest bargaining association for apples and cherries.
The Washington-Oregon Canning Pear Association is a nonprofit organization of Bartlett pear growers that dates back to 1954 and negotiates prices for growers with canners. There were dozens of Northwest and California canners in the 1950s. Now there are three in the Northwest and two in California.
Fresh produce from around the world is more available in supermarkets now than even 30 years ago, and the emphasis on buying fresh foods has taken a toll on canned pear consumption.
Washington and Oregon production has leveled off at about 125,000 tons of canned pears in the last couple of years and California at another 20,000 tons. The three states produced about 500,000 tons in the mid-1990s and grow the vast majority of the nation's pears for fresh and canned sales. Most of the pears for canning are grown in the Yakima, Wash., district.
The USDA continues to be the largest customer, buying canned pears for school lunches. China and South Africa began exporting canned pears to the U.S. in 2000.
The association operates on a voluntary $1 per ton assessment on growers and $1 per ton service charge to cash-buying processors that generates more than $90,000 annually, Grandy said. Expenses have been about $90,000 a year for the past 10 years, he said. Excess reserves are refunded to growers when appropriate.
The association negotiated a new, three-year contract in May with Del Monte Foods, of San Francisco, and Northwest Packing Co., of Vancouver, Wash. Both paid growers $260 per ton for field run No. 1 grade pears this year, up from $256 last season. The price increases to $266 per ton in 2013 and $272 in 2014.
Del Monte operates a plant in Yakima and bought the bankrupt Snokist Growers plant in Yakima in May.
Truitt Brothers Inc., Salem, Ore., lost out in bidding for the Snokist plant and exited the industry.
Independent Foods, Yakima, is the only other Northwest pear canner but, as a cooperative, is not part of the association price contract. Neither was Snokist.