CAPITAL PRESS – DAN WHEAT – PORTLAND — After several years of lighter crops, Pacific Northwest pear growers forecast an average crop this season. The question is whether the weather and other elements will intervene to scramble that picture.
Pacific Northwest pear growers anticipate an average crop this year of 18.8 million, 44-pound boxes after lighter crops four years in a row.
Growers produced a record 21.69 million boxes of pears in 2013 but every year since then the yield has been much lighter. Hot weather causing fruit drop and contributing to decay called cork is at least partially responsible for the lighter crops.
The 18,855,900-box estimate is just 58,345 boxes less than the five-year average of 18,914,245 boxes. It is 18 percent bigger than the 2017 crop, which will soon finish sales at close to 15.9 million boxes.
“I like that this looks like a good, full crop. Not record by any means, there should be plenty of promotable fruit for export and domestic markets if this forecast holds,” said Kevin Moffitt, president of The Pear Bureau Northwest in Portland.
That can be a big if. A 17.6-million-box crop was forecast a year ago. It grew to an 18.3-million-box forecast on Aug. 22 but has dropped 13 percent since then.
That’s a much larger shrink than most years, Moffitt said. Beside an increase in cork, about 150,000 boxes of pears were lost in an October fire at Underwood Fruit in Bingen, Wash., near Hood River, Ore.
The Pear Bureau is the Northwest’s fresh pear industry promotional arm and gave the forecast on May 31, the second day of its annual meeting in Portland.
The forecast will be updated in mid-August. Right now, the breakdown by growing district is: Wenatchee, 8.6 million boxes; Hood River, 7 million; Yakima, 2.4 million; and Medford, 751,200 boxes.
The top volumes by variety will be: 9.3 million boxes of d’ Anjou, up 10 percent from 2017; 4.5 million of Green Bartlett, up 24 percent; 3.1 million of Bosc, up 42 percent; 1 million of Red d’Anjou, up 7 percent; and 309,100 boxes of Starkrimson, up 20 percent.
The percentage jump in Bosc is large because it was short last year, Moffitt said.
Organic pears are expected to total 1.6 million boxes, up from 1.2 million last year.
“There’s been more and more transition. It takes three years to transition from conventional to organic. Demand has been growing and our supply is behind demand,” Moffitt said.
Harvest is forecast to start with Starkrimson in Hood River on Aug. 3 and will finish in late September or early October in higher elevations of Hood River and Leavenworth at the upper end of the Wenatchee Valley.
The Pear Bureau renewed grower assessments at 38.5 cents per box for promotions and 3.3 cents for Pear Bureau administration and funding the Northwest Horticultural Council. It increased research assessments from 3.1 to 4.5 cents per box.
The preliminary domestic and foreign promotions budget will be about $6.9 million, up $500,000 from the preliminary spending plan approved a year ago. Of that, $5.7 million is for domestic promotions and $1.2 million for export promotions. Some $2.8 million from the USDA Market Access Program is expected to bring export promotions up to $4 million and the total budget up to $9.8 million.
The 2017 crop was 94.45 percent shipped as of June 1 versus 93.78 percent of the crop shipped a year ago. About 883,000 boxes remained to be sold versus 1.1 million a year ago.
Sales have been slower than shippers wanted, with exports down because of a strong dollar, larger fruit and more small fruit selling domestically in pouch bags, Moffitt said.
“The biggest problem in return to grower is getting fewer boxes per bin because of cork. Yield is down in Anjou because of cork,” he said.
Yakima and Wenatchee prices of d’Anjou were $22 to $26 per box for U.S. No. 1 grade, size 80s on June 1, down $1 from a year ago, according to USDA.
Picture: Dan Wheat Capital Press