East Coast apple shortage should help prices stay strong
By DAN WHEAT
CASHMERE, Wash. -- It looks like a great year for fresh Pacific Northwest pears, with good volume, sales and prices, industry representatives say.
Three months into the yearlong sales season the crop is estimated by The Pear Bureau Northwest at 19.2 million, 44-pound boxes. That's only 78,000 boxes below the June 1 estimate and 1 percent greater than the five-year norm.
The average season-to-date Washington price is $22.73 per box as of Nov. 10 compared with $20.28 a year ago and $20.19 two years ago, said Dan Kelly, assistant manager of the Washington Growers Clearing House Association in Wenatchee. No trade organization tracks Oregon prices.
"It's a good-size crop but it's a promotable volume selling at prices that normally go for a short crop," said Kevin Moffitt, president of The Pear Bureau Northwest in Milwaukie, Ore.
"Growers should see good returns," he said. "I would anticipate prices will stay firm, but we don't know how much imports in February, March and April will affect the market."
A record 20.6-million-box crop last year was large enough that sales and prices suffered. More smaller and lower-grade fruit also contributed to a mid-season slow down, Kelly has said.
This year's shortage of East Coast apples should help Northwest apple and pear prices stay strong, Kelly said.
Movement is good at 31.5 percent of the crop sold as of Nov. 9 compared with 25.3 percent a year ago and 31.8 percent two years ago, Moffitt said.
Of the 19.2 million boxes, 14.3 million are winter pears and 4.9 million are summer/fall varieties.
By district the crop is: Wenatchee, 8,445,435 boxes; Mid-Columbia (Hood River), 7,168,143; Yakima, 2,733,592; Medford, 854,909.
One of the main sheds in the Wenatchee Valley, Blue Star Growers Inc., Cashmere, is down 26 percent in volume because of weather and alternate bearing cycle, said Jerry Kenoyer, Blue Star general manager.
Given that, the night shift finished Nov. 9 when it normally works until Christmas, he said.
Fruit is trending smaller than a year ago but 92 percent of the crop is U.S. No. 1 grade and 8 percent is fancy which is better than normal, Kenoyer said.
Blue Star, founded in 1907, has just built a new $8 million 25,000 bin warehouse about a mile east of its packing plant. The additional storage has been needed for the last five years as Blue Star has been leasing storage space in Malott and CRO Orchard south of Rock Island, Kenoyer said.
Blue Star is leasing some of its new storage to Columbia Fruit Packers and McDougall & Sons of Wenatchee for apple storage.