—by Ross Courtney

Facing declining crop volumes and budget, Northwest pear officials increased annual assessments for the first time in 25 years and agreed to begin negotiations with a new CEO candidate at the industry’s annual meeting on May 29 at the Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, Washington.

The boost will take the assessment from 46.8 cents per 44-pound box equivalent to 51.6 cents. The entire increase would go to promotions, bringing that amount to 43.3 cents, while the research and administrative amounts would stay at 4.5 cents and 3.8 cents, respectively. 

It’s the first across-the-board pear increase since the 1998–99 season.

Proponents made the bump with heavy hearts, they said. Pear Bureau Northwest Chair Jordan Matson of Matson Fruit and board member Mike Taylor of Stemilt Growers both supported the increase, though they have historically pushed back against assessment hikes.

Matson called the increase an attempt to bring the promotions budget more in line with crop volume estimates made earlier in May. 

Pear Bureau Northwest board members significantly reduced those projections at the annual meeting, citing damaging cold events in January this year and lingering effects from a cold snap in October 2022. Wenatchee-area orchards have been hit especially hard. That, in turn, lowered the bureau’s projected budget.

Crop projections are still preliminary. Pear Bureau Northwest releases official crop estimates in September.

The other unknown is how much organic producers will contribute. They have until June 17 to “opt out” of collective promotions.

The Fresh Pear Committee voted 10-1 in favor of the rate increase.

The Fresh Pear Committee is authorized under a federal marketing order to levy assessments on Washington and Oregon producers. Pear Bureau Northwest, based in Milwaukie, Oregon, uses those funds to collectively promote Washington and Oregon fresh pears with the brand USA Pears.

The bureau spends the money on in-store demonstrations, social media campaigns, consumer advertising and a host of other promotional activities. Proponents of the rate increase were concerned that a drop in those promotions would cost the industry store shelf space it may never reclaim. 

Also at the annual meeting, the Pear Bureau Northwest board voted to give a search team the authority to begin negotiations with a candidate to replace Kevin Moffitt as president and CEO. The board gave the go-ahead without revealing the candidate’s identity.

Moffitt has worked at the bureau for 35 years, 23 as president and CEO. He announced his resignation earlier this year. He will cease day-to-day duties at the end of June, though he will spend up to 12 months helping the incoming president get started, he said.