By DAN WHEAT
The Pacific Northwest pear crop will be smaller this fall, down 6 percent from last year's record crop but 2 percent larger than the five-year average.
Growers will pay a new, unified assessment of 38.5 cents per box for fresh pear promotions instead of 30 cents for summer/fall pears and 41 cents for winter pears. The assessment change and crop forecast occurred at the annual meeting of the Fresh Pear Committee and The Pear Bureau Northwest in Portland.
The assessments were different because winter pears are promoted longer.
If the forecast holds, the 2012 Washington and Oregon pear crop will be the fifth largest in history at 19.3 million, 44-pound boxes, said Kevin Moffitt, president of The Pear Bureau Northwest.
The 2011 crop is the record at 20.6 million boxes.
Harvest should be more normal this year, starting about Aug. 1. Last year's was 10 days to two weeks late because of a cool, wet spring.
There has been no frost or hail and the crop appears very clean right now, Moffitt said.
Of the total estimate, 14.8 million is winter pears and 4.4 million is summer/fall pears.
Marketing the record 2011 crop was challenging, said Dan Kelly, assistant manager of the Washington Growers Clearing House Association in Wenatchee.
Smaller and lower-grade fruit was more plentiful than normal causing a mid-season slow down, he said. The small and lower-grade fruit is now gone and prices are coming back up as Mexico increased its import of U.S. pears, Kelly said.
The season-to-date wholesale price of all varieties of Washington pears was $18.67 per box as of May 29 compared with $21.56 a year ago and $17.37 in 2009, which had been a record crop, he said.
Prices increased about 50 cents a box the last week of May from the prior week, he said. Prices are not similarly compiled in Oregon.
As of May 29, 19.2 million boxes (93 percent) of the 2011 crop was sold with 1.4 million boxes (7 percent) left to ship, Kelly said. That compares with 1.6 million boxes left to ship a year ago and usually less than 1 million by this time, he said.
"So we're in pretty good shape with movement and it should clean out as the new crop comes in," he said.
California will estimate its 2012 pear crop in mid-June. It is expected to be lighter on Bartlett and heavier on Bosc than normal, Moffitt said. It should not be too competitive with the Northwest, Kelly said.
California's harvest usually starts July 1 and is about 4.5 million, 36-pound boxes.