Smaller winter pear crop
The d'Anjou crop was affected by a spring freeze, but the Bosc crop should exceed last year's.
Pacific Northwest pear growers are expecting to harvest a smaller crop than last year because of a spring freeze that affected Washington orchards. The total estimated crop of summer, fall, and winter pears is estimated at 17.1 million boxes, down from 19.1 million boxes for the current year. However, the crop is still likely to exceed the hail-impacted crop of 2006.
At the annual meeting of the Northwest's Fresh Pear Committee in Portland on May 29, industry representatives estimated the total fresh winter pear crop for Washington and Oregon at 13.1 million boxes, down from 14.7 million boxes last season, though there was still some uncertainty about the crop size. Bosc, the Northwest's second-most important winter pear variety, was estimated at 2.7 million boxes, up from 2.5 million last year.
Pat Burnett, a pear grower at Peshastin, Washington, and a member of the Northwest Fresh Pear Committee, said that although the d'Anjou crop may be down 25 percent in the Wenatchee district, the Bosc crop looks good. Many of the Bosc pears are produced in the Okanogan area, which was less impacted by cold weather in April.
The Northwest's crop of Bartlett and other summer or fall varieties is estimated to be down about 10 percent from last year at 4.0 million boxes, with 1.6 million coming from Oregon and 2.4 million from Washington.
Kevin Moffitt, president of the Pear Bureau Northwest, reported that pear production in California was also impacted by cold weather, with some areas expecting 30 percent losses. Early estimates of the California Bartlett crop were for about 3 million boxes, which would be a 16 percent decrease from last year.
Although the 2007 crop was the third largest fresh pear crop in history, returns to growers were high, Moffitt said. With costs and inputs rising, growers need higher returns. During the 2007-8 season, retailers were selling fruit for twice as much as four or five years ago, with d'Anjou prices as high as $1.99 per pound (equivalent to $88 a box). Specialty varieties such as Seckel were selling for up to $3.99 a pound on the East coast. Even with $6 to $8 in freight, f.o.b. prices did not reflect such high retail prices, he said. Stores are working on 60 percent mark-ups and figuring in shrink factors of 10 to 12 percent.
"I do believe that we have seen the peak on pear pricing at retail and that next year's retails will moderate," Moffitt said. "A slowing economy pushes consumers to look for values, and they tend to eat at home more than at restaurants, so retail sales may suffer less than food service."
To drive demand for pears and keep returns at profitable levels, the Pear Bureau is placing a heavy emphasis on cooperative advertising with retailers and in-store sampling, which take up about 70 percent of the bureau's promotion budgets.
Around $9.4 million are allocated for promotion of winter pears and $1.3 million for summer and fall pears. Of the total assessment of 50.1 cents per box for winter pears, 44 cents go to promotions and 3.1 to research. The assessment rate for summer and fall pears is 36.6 cents per box, of which 30 cents go to promotions and 3.1 cents to research.
Pear imports during the 2007-8 season were the lowest in 10 or 12 years due to smaller crops in other growing regions of the world and strong demand in other markets, such as Brazil, Russia, and the European Union, Moffitt said. European markets were attractive for Southern Hemisphere producers because of the strong Euro.
The weak dollar helped Northwest pear producers boost their exports to more than 6 million boxes, up from 4.3 million a year ago. Prices were also higher. The season-average f.o.b. price for exported pears was $19.40 per box, up from about $10 a box a decade ago, reported the Pear Bureau's International Marketing Director Jeff Correa.