By DAN WHEAT
The Pacific Northwest and California are expecting smaller pear crops this fall, which should mean somewhat higher prices.
Washington and Oregon will produce about 18.5 million, 44-pound boxes of fresh pears down from its record 20.1 million-box 2009 crop but still 1 percent above the five-year average.
That's the forecast of Pear Bureau Northwest, of Milwaukie, Ore., from its annual meeting, June 2 and 3, in Portland.
The preliminary California forecast is 3.3 million, 36-pound boxes which equals 2.7 million, 44-pound boxes, down from 3.7 million, 44-pound boxes a year ago, said Chris Zanobini, executive director of the California Pear Advisory Board in Sacramento.
"The last three years, we've had banner crops in our main production area, the Sacramento Delta, and this is an alternate bearing cycle year," he said. California typically produces far more pears for processing than fresh sales, he said.
In March, Kevin Moffitt, president of Pear Bureau Northwest, was concerned an early spring would mean a six-week, instead of normal three-week, overlap of the California and Northwest pear crops.
Now a cool, wet spring has dissipated that concern. Zanobini said a three-week overlap looks more likely.
Linda Bailey, vice president of operations of Pear Bureau, said the forecast of an average PNW crop is good in the recession.
The average Washington wholesale price for all pear varieties was $17.25 a box on May 29 compared with $19.89 a year earlier, said Dan Kelly, assistant manager of the Washington Growers Clearing House Association in Wenatchee.
Prices were held down by the size of the crop, the recession and a 20 percent tariff in Mexico, Kelly said. It was tight but most growers still made money, he said.
"It wasn't the worst year, but it wasn't as good as the last couple years," Kelly said.
As of May 28, there were 809,000 boxes of pears from the 2009 PNW crop yet to sell compared with 818,000 a year earlier, Bailey said. That shows the industry has done a very good job marketing the crop, given the challenge of record volume and the recession, she said.
PNW and California pear exports to Mexico are down 15 percent because of the tariff, said Jeff Correa, international marketing director of The Pear Bureau. The PNW has lost $16 million sales to Mexico this year because of the tariff and $22 million since the tariff began, he said.
The Mexican tariff remains a big concern for the next season, but worries of a Brazilian tariff have lessened, Correa said.
The PNW forecast is for 14.2 million boxes of winter pears (d'Anjou, Bosc Red d'Anjou, Comice, Seckel and Concorde) down 9 percent from 15.6 million in 2009. Summer-Fall pears (Bartlett, Starkrimson and others) are estimated at 4.3 million boxes, down from 4.4 million in 2009.
The Northwest produces about 86 percent of the nation's pears.
Crews were busy hand thinning pears in the Wenatchee Valley this past week. Rain put the thinning and spraying for codling moth and pear psylla behind schedule, said Ray Schmitten, fieldman for McDougall & Sons Inc., Wenatchee.
Northwest pear crop by district
Wenatchee 9,561,806 8,882,790
Mid-Columbia 6,945,739 6 ,304,150
Yakima 2,586,446 2,345,000
Medford 1,017,282 1,008,630
Source: The Pear Bureau Northwest
California pear crop
2009 3.7 million
2010 2.7 million
Source: California Pear Advisory Board