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Northwest pear crop is estimated at 20.5 million boxes for 2015. Source: Pear Bureau Northwest. <b>(Jared Johnson/Good Fruit Grower)</b>

Northwest pear crop is estimated at 20.5 million boxes for 2015. Source: Pear Bureau Northwest. (Jared Johnson/Good Fruit Grower)

The 2015 Northwest fresh pear crop is likely to come in at 20.5 million boxes, just short of last season’s crop.

“It’s the first year in 15 years that we’ve had two down crops in a row,” Kevin Moffitt, president of the Pear Bureau Northwest, observed during annual pear organization meetings in Portland in late May. “It had been going up and down.”

Fresh pear production has been stable and manageable over the past few years and returns to growers have been good, he said. “I see this year’s crop continuing that trend.”

This is in contrast to the Washington apple crop, which has been expanding rapidly. The industry faced marketing difficulties this season, partly because of a record crop but also because exports were limited by a slowdown at West Coast ports. As a result, more apples were pushed onto the domestic market.

Mike Taylor, marketing director at Stemilt Growers in Wenatchee, Washington, said the rapid expansion of new apple varieties has put a lot of pressure on retail produce departments, and shippers have had to work hard to secure shelf space and good display locations.

Because of this, pears lost shelf space, Moffitt reported.

“If you go to the supermarket you’ll see sometimes 15 to 20 varieties of apples. Every time they bring in a new variety, something has to go, and it might not be another variety of apple,” he said. “But I think if the apple crop were more normal we would not have this shelf space fight. I don’t think apples will displace pears when it’s not a huge crop like it was this year.”

Moffitt said he is optimistic about this year’s pear crop. At 20.5 million boxes, it would be just 2 percent below last season’s crop and 2 percent above the five-year average.

The total winter pear crop (primarily the d’Anjou, Bosc, and Comice varieties) is forecast at 15.6 million boxes. The Wenatchee district is forecasting a winter pear crop of 7.0 million boxes this year, a similar volume to last year. There should be slightly more d’Anjou pears this year but fewer Bosc and Comice.

The Mid-Columbia region is forecasting 6.1 million boxes of winter pears, also similar to last year’s crop. The Yakima district should be up slightly to 1.7 million boxes, and Medford, Oregon, is also forecasting an increase to 740,000 boxes.

The summer/fall pear crop (primarily Bartlett) is estimated at 4.8 million boxes, down from 5.1 million a year ago. Almost half the fresh Bartletts are produced in the Wenatchee district. The Mid-Columbia district should have about 1.5 million boxes.

Harvest of Bartlett pears should begin in early August in Washington and the Mid-Columbia district, about a week ahead of last year. D’Anjou harvest should be underway by mid-August. •