Fewer pears for processing
With Northwest Bartlett volume below average, the contract price for processing pears is up.
Bartlett pear growers in Washington and Oregon expected to harvest a relatively small crop this year, with less volume available for processing.
The total Pacific Northwest Bartlett pear crop (fresh and processed) is estimated at 220,000 tons, a 7 percent drop from the 238,000 tons harvested last season. The industry expects to process 125,000 tons this year compared with 138,000 tons in 2009.
In early August, the Washington-Oregon Canning Pear Association reached a two-year price agreement for cannery Bartletts with the three Northwest processors that it negotiates with. The base price for No. 1 Bartletts is $251 per ton for the 2010 season and $253 for the 2011 season. The base price will be adjusted up or down by up to $10 a ton, when the actual tonnage is determined.
The three processors are Truitt Brothers of Salem, Oregon; Del Monte Foods, Yakima, Washington; and Northwest Packing Company, Vancouver, Washington.
Association Manager Jay Grandy said the negotiations, which began in the spring, were difficult this year. Although growers were expecting to harvest a shorter crop, Northwest canneries are starting the season with an inventory of about 2.1 million cases of canned pears, up from 1.7 million a year ago, so the total available to sell should be about the same as last year. Canned pear sales have been declining slightly over the past few years, and Grandy said sales this spring were particularly slow, possibly because of the economic recession. That contributed to the higher carryover.
The previous price agreement was a two-year contract for a base price of $240 dollars a ton for 2008 and $247 for 2009. The actual price paid last season, after adjusting for volume, was $245 a ton.
Growers had initially hoped for a one-year agreement this year, rather than being locked into another two-year deal, Grandy said, though they eventually agreed that the two-year agreement was best. “Our board is very concerned about the uncertainties right now concerning the marketplace activities and all that’s going on with labor, immigration, and taxes.”
While domestic sales have been falling, so have imports. Until a couple of years ago, Dole Fruit Company was canning large volumes of pears in single-serve cups in Thailand for export to the United States. That trade has declined dramatically, Grandy said, though he is not sure why. Initially, most of those pears were grown in the United States and exported to Thailand for processing and packing, but later Dole began using Chinese pears also.
Imports of single-portion pears packed in China have also declined slightly. Most are packed by Del Monte, which dominates the U.S. retail canned pear business. Grandy estimates that China is exporting around 500,000 equivalent cases of single-serve packs a year to the United States, along with 700,000 cases of pears in larger cans. Although down from previous years, that’s still 1.2 million cases coming into the country in competition with domestically grown pears, and U.S. producers have had to adjust their production levels accordingly, he said. However, on the plus side, the U.S. Department of Agriculture continues to buy almost a million cases of pears annually for school lunch programs.
Northwest growers pay an assessment of $8.41 per ton to the Processed Pear Committee, of which $7.11 per ton goes to the Pacific Northwest Canned Pear Service for promotions.
Production of Bartlett pears in California has been steadily declining as pear orchards are replaced with other crops. This year’s estimate is 174,000 tons, down from 194,000 tons last year.
California’s processed volume is expected to be around 123,000 tons, with a portion of that transported to Northwest shippers for canning. Last year, more than 17,000 tons of California pears were canned in the Northwest. Grandy said he could not estimate the volume for the coming year, as it has fluctuated widely, ranging from as many as 47,000 tons in 1996 (when the Northwest had a very short crop) to as low as 3,300 tons in 2005.