Future Bartlett Crops
by Jay Grandy, Washington-Oregon Canning Pear Association
Earlier this year, I was asked to project the future Bartlett pear volumes for the Pacific Northwest. The Pear Bureau Northwest and the Pacific Northwest Canned Pear Service promote the sales of fresh and canned Bartletts grown in Oregon and Washington, so they wanted to look at future crop volumes.
The fresh Bartlett tonnage jumped from 78,173 to 91,828 tons in 2007, while the processed tonnage dropped to 133,716 tons. Both agencies need good data to plan future promotions.
In the Northwest, the Bartlett and d'Anjou crops generally come in at around 220,000 to 250,000 tons each year. But, the markets served by these two varieties are quite different. D'Anjous only serve the fresh market while Bartletts are sold in both the fresh and canned markets. Further, to appropriately review Bartletts, you need to include a review of California Bartletts.
When you combine the three states, Bartlett is the single largest pear variety harvested. Historical data from the 1950s show that the Bartlett crop has generally been around 500,000 tons, ranging as high as 600,000 in one year, but dropping to 437,303 tons in 2007. The chart on page 17 shows the five-year average tonnage for the fresh, processed, and total Bartlett crop.
Fresh Bartlett volume has been growing very slowly and consistently since 1970, reaching 156,295 tons in 2007. Bartlett harvest starts in California in July. Northwest Bartletts join the sales competition in August, and most fresh Bartletts are sold by year-end. But, only 36 percent of the 2007 West Coast Bartlett crop was sold in the fresh market.
The majority of the Bartletts produced in the Pacific Coast states are processed as canned pears or canned mixed fruits. Bartletts have excellent physical characteristics for peeling, slicing, and dicing. They have been a staple in the canned fruit market, and more recently are being sold in plastic single-serving containers. The Northwest states are the leaders in production of halves and slices, but California processors use large quantities of pears in mixed fruit, with cling peaches and pears the largest portions of the mixed fruits.
The volume trends for Bartletts raise concerns. In recent seasons, fresh Bartletts from the Northwest have sold at excellent prices, so growers have received favorable returns. By contrast, the market for processed canned pears has suffered from rising costs for growing and processing pears, while imports, primarily from China, have restrained price increases. Pear processors are very reluctant to pay higher prices for their raw product, which is increasing grower concerns about their current and future profitability. The low prices for processor Bartletts and the uncertainty of the processors has led growers to reorient their growing practices to move more product to the fresh market.
The result was a large increase in the Northwest fresh volume in 2007, as noted earlier, and concerns about future promotional plans.
To project future volumes, I reviewed historic volumes by state and Northwest growing districts. Trend-line analysis was used, and it quickly became evident that you could get very different results depending on the starting date used for the trend. A 15-year history was chosen as most likely to represent recent trends, which were projected ten years to 2017. To further evaluate the historic data, tree surveys produced by the National Agricultural Statistical Service for Washington and Oregon were reviewed. Also, the annual Nursery Fruit Tree Survey produced by Tree Top of Selah, Washington, provided another way to evaluate Bartlett trees planted on a yearly basis. These two surveys were used to estimate which growing districts were most likely to see changes in their tonnage from new plantings. For the most part, the overall annual tree additions after 2000 appear to be in the 2 percent range. Recognizing that there are older tree losses in orchards each year, and that economics are causing orchard removals, this planting rate does not cause concern about large volume changes for Bartletts.
Three Northwest districts provide 96 percent of the Northwest Bartlett tonnage:
- The Wenatchee district (19 percent) is strictly a fresh-market district. Usually, a few thousand tons go
to processors, but primarily from fresh packing line sort-outs. Recent plantings should provide continued growth in this district.
- The Mid-Columbia district (21 percent) is comparable in size to Wenatchee and provides the majority of the Oregon volume. The district's volume has decreased since the early 1980s when the Diamond Fruit cannery at Hood River, Oregon, was closed. In recent years, growers have been shifting their growing practices
with greater emphasis on the high returns of the
The table on page 16 shows the estimated volumes in 2017 compared with the actual tonnage from 2007. The trend-line column was derived by projecting the Northwest district trends from the last 15 years. The column titled "Judgment" was determined by the author by applying the information learned from the tree survey information and other anecdotal input. The overall crop is not projected to grow significantly, but fresh volume will increase with processor volume remaining fairly constant.
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