SACRAMENTO — California will begin harvesting early pear varieties after the Fourth of July and expects a slightly larger crop than last year.
The California Pear Advisory Board in Sacramento on June 20 forecast a 2019 crop of 2.865 million, 36-pound boxes, up 6.37% from last year’s 2.693-million-box crop.
The big increase in the forecast was in Bartlett, up 11.6% at 2.28 million boxes, while all other varieties, except Seckel, were forecast to be down.
“A slightly late but uniform bloom gave a good Bartlett set. Last year was an irregular bloom and some odd weather after bloom,” said Kyle Persky, sales manager of Rivermaid Trading Co. in Lodi, Calif., which packs more than half the state’s fresh pears.
Bartlett harvest will start about July 22 and red pears and Starkrimson harvest will start about a week earlier, Persky said. The crop is seven to 10 days later than normal because of cold weather before bloom, he said.
The crop is “excellent quality, nice shape and the potential for very good fruit sizing,” said Chris Zanobini, pear board executive director.
There is strong interest from retailers, he said.
The 2.865-million-box forecast equals 123,570 tons with 64,000 tons expected for canning, 8,000 tons dried for baby food and 51,570 tons for fresh sales, Zanobini said.
That compares with 122,796 tons last year with 66,720 for canning, 7,598 dried for baby food and 48,478 for fresh sales, he said.
“One of three canneries closed its California operations last year before the season, so percentage-wise more is going fresh,” Persky said.
But there are only four fresh packers and not all fruit will be utilized, he said.
“It’s hard to say how much. It can be significant,” he said.
“We pruned aggressively to try to maximize fruit size and put emphasis on quality and size over tonnage,” Persky said.
Fire blight appears lighter than last year, he said.
Similar to last year, Persky says opening wholesale prices should be in the low $30s per box, up from a more normal mid to high $20s.
However, last year was not a good year for overall grower returns because of Pacific Northwest competition, he said.
California enters the market first but is still harvesting its late districts when Oregon and Washington start their harvest.
There usually is significant overlap and “Washington is more aggressive to encourage retailers to switch sooner,” he said.
California doesn’t have controlled atmosphere pear storage so usually sells out by late October. With CA storage, Washington sells some varieties year-round.
On May 30, Pear Bureau Northwest forecast a 17.265 million, 44-pound box Washington and Oregon crop, down 9% from last year.
The 20% Mexican tariff on U.S. apples that was recently lifted helped pears since they were not under the tariff, Persky said.
China’s 50% tariff on U.S. apples, pears and cherries did not impact California pears much since few are sold there, he said.