Neil Jones Food Co. has agreed to pay canning pear growers a price lower than offered by the association that has typically negotiated for Northwest farmers.

At a small growers meeting last week, the Vancouver, Washington, company offered $315 for Grade 1A pears, said Adam McCarthy, a Hood River, Oregon, grower who attended.

Matt Jones, general manager and CEO, told growers at the meeting the company would not seek pears below that price for the remainder of the season, McCarthy said. Jones was out of the office this week and unable to respond, while other company officials did not return messages.

McCarthy is the chair of the Washington-Oregon Canning Pear Association.

Neil Jones Food Co. broke with tradition earlier this year when it turned down a price-per-ton from the Canning Pear Association, based in Yakima, Washington. Historically, the association has reached a price agreement with the largest Northwest canner, Del Monte Foods of Yakima, while Neil Jones and the third Northwest canner, Seneca Foods in Sunnyside, Washington, follow suit.

Del Monte and the association agreed on $335 per ton but Neil Jones turned it down, citing market conditions, before last week’s offer was made without the association, McCarthy said. It’s unclear what the move means for the group, McCarthy said.

The canned pear industry has been hurt by cheap imports and dwindling customer interest in canned foods overall. In April, Seneca announced it would honor only long-standing contracts and close the plant after the 2019 season.

In 2018, Del Monte canned 55,000 tons of Bartletts, Neil Jones 28,000 tons and Seneca 17,000.

—by Ross Courtney