Pear growers in the Pacific Northwest will pay less money to the Pear Bureau Northwest for ­winter pear promotions in the coming season.

The Pear Bureau’s board of directors has reduced its assessment rate for winter pear promotions from 44 to 41 cents per box, reflecting the trend for producers and marketers to conduct their own private promotions with customers. The promotional assessment on Bartlett and other early maturing varieties remains 30 cents per box.

The lower assessment rate will mean a drop in income for the Pear Bureau of $450,000 for the year and a 7 percent reduction in its budget, based on an estimated winter pear crop of 15.5 million boxes, said Pear Bureau President Kevin Moffitt. That will mean fewer generic retail promotions on the domestic ­market.

Moffitt said as the industry has consolidated and packers become bigger, there’s been a trend for many shippers and marketers to do their own retail promotions with their customers and hire their own field staff. Today, the ten largest pear sales desks control 90 percent of the crop.

There will be an effort to coordinate the Pear Bureau’s generic promotions with shippers, Moffitt said. While shipper representatives talk to retailers about the whole range of produce items they sell—usually apples and cherries as well as pears—the Pear Bureau focuses ­exclusively on pears year round.

The Pear Bureau has five regional managers (down from 11 a decade ago), who work with retailers across the country and will share information about the promotions they set up with retailers with the retailers’ suppliers. The new promotion rate was set during the Pear Bureau’s annual meeting in Portland, Oregon, in early June.

Not low enough

Board member Rob Stewart, general manager of Stadelman Fruit Company, Zillah, Washington, argued that a three-cent reduction in the assessment rate was not enough.  “I would make a recommendation to cut it from 41 to 35 cents. That’s a very adequate amount of money for what we’re doing domestically,” he said.

But Craig Christensen of Wenatchee, Washington, said the Wenatchee district produces about 50 percent of the Northwest’s fresh winter pears, and growers there wanted to fully fund the Pear Bureau to maintain the strongest promotions possible in order to move the crop. “As a grower, I am going to vote for not reducing the assessment rate.”

The board went with the 41-cent-a-box recommendation of a task force that the Pear Bureau had set up to look at the issue. “It’s a good compromise, and it meets everyone’s needs,” said task force member Mike Taylor of Wenatchee. “We’re trying to be prudent and save money where possible and still have a well-funded program.”

The bureau’s emphasis from now on will be the export market and consumer promotions. The export budget is $5.2 million dollars, of which almost $3 million came from the federal Market Access ­Promotion program. About $3.5 million will be spent on domestic promotions and communications for winter pears and $1 million for Bartlett and other ­summer/fall pear promotions.

The Fresh Pear Committee, which administers the federal marketing order for fresh Northwest pears, collects additional assessments. For winter pears, growers will pay 3.0 cents a box for committee operations and 3.1 cents a box for research, bringing the 2011 total assessment rate to 47.1 cents per box. For summer/fall pears, the rates are 3.5 cents for committee operations and 3.1 cents for research, for a total of 36.6 cents a box, which is unchanged from last year.

Northwest pear producers are forecasting a winter pear crop of 15.1 million boxes for the coming season, up from 13.7 million boxes last year, but down from the 15.7 million produced in 2009. The Wenatchee district is forecasting 6 million boxes of d’Anjou pears. The 2011 crop of Bartlett and other summer/fall pears is estimated at 3.9 million boxes, a 2 percent drop from last year.  That would bring the combined summer, fall, and winter fresh pear production to 19.2 million boxes, an 8 percent increase over last year.

The Pacific Northwest Canned Pear Service will also collect a lower assessment for promotions in the coming year. The rate will be reduced from $7.11 per ton to $6.33 per ton. The Canned Pear Service plans to spend slightly more on promotions, but the number of staff has been cut from three to two, reducing the cost of managing and administering the program.

At the annual meeting, manager Mark Miller presented a budget of $759,000 for 2011-2012, which includes $355,000 for foodservice and Web promotions, $20,000 for promotions in Canada, and $100,000 for ­contingencies.

Jay Grandy, who does statistical analysis for the Canned Pear Service, estimated that this year’s processed pear crop in Washington and Oregon would be around 126,000 tons, up from 124,000 tons in 2010, but said it was difficult to estimate accurately because of the lateness of this year’s growing season and variability from district to district.

“Overall, I think it will be close to last year,” he said. “I think there will be more processed than last year because the growing season has been so cold and I don’t think we’ll get the size we’ve had in recent years.”