(Sept. 3) KINGSBURG, Calif. — Asian pear growers in California say prices for the specialty fruit are steady, despite lower-than-anticipated harvests as field crews mitigate fire blight damage in orchards.

The domestic Asian pear harvest began in mid-July and will continue through February with shippers who have controlled-atmosphere storage.

Although fire blight, which aggressively attacks trees and can destroy them within a day if the conditions are right, is an annual concern, this season has been particularly troubling.

“We’ve had severe fire blight problems this year,” said John Hein, marketing director for Kingsburg Apple Sales, Kingsburg.

Kingsburg’s initial estimates of a 2 million one-layer carton season have been pared to 1.9 million cartons, because of fire blight and a light bloom set. Cartons weigh 11-14 pounds, depending on the size of the fruit.

Bill Haskell, district sales manager for Fruit Patch Sales LLC, Dinuba, said cartons of size 17, desired by chain stores, were around $8.85. Size 15s were about $9.85, Haskell said.

“I think everyone in the industry is trying things that set their business apart from the competition, and Asian pears are an item that can do that,” he said. “There aren’t many items that are this sweet. It hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves.”

Although fire blight has limited the overall California crop in recent years, Haskell said demand continues to grow as retailers realize Asian pears aren’t limited to a specific ethnic group.

“Pricing is as good or better than last year,” Haskell said. “Last year at the start of the season, it seemed more people were reluctant to commit to an Asian pear program.

“We’re quoting a lot of chain stores on ads. You’ll see a lot of promotions in the next 30 days and into October,” he said.