(Feb. 4) Argentine bartlett pears are being packed and should arrive on American shores as early as mid-February.

The volume will be around 30% to 40% lower than last year’s crop, shippers say.

The decline makes this the second year in a row that pear imports from that country are down.

A frost in October and cool er-than-normal weather in the upper Neuquen Valley in Rio Negro was to blame for the low volume, said Tom Leonardi, president of Bocchi Americas Inc., Philadelphia.

Shippers also say that a strong euro will continue to trouble the domestic market, just as it did last year.

“The U.S. market is being affected by the euro,” said David Nelley, director of pip fruit and pineapple categories for The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia.

In 2002-03, the U.S. imported 1.4 million 40-pound boxes of pears from Argentina, down from 2.5 million the season before.

Nelley expected this year’s Argentine crop to yield around 1 million 40-pound boxes, which would mean that the total volume for Argentine pears will be down 60 % in two years.

“This could be the lightest crop we’ve seen in years,” Leonardi said.

Nelley said the fruit was being harvested and packed onto ships this week and will be on the water soon. He expects his first arrivals to be sometime late in the week of Feb. 8-14.

Last year, the first arrivals came around the same time. Nelley estimated that the peak for Argentine product would be in late March or early April.

Leonardi said to expect a slightly higher prices on Argentine bartletts this year, ranging from $20-26.