(June 4) Outside Sacramento, Calif., pear grower Jeff McCormack is saying his prayers — prayers not for rain but for a clean pipeline.

“I hope and pray the imports aren’t hanging around when we harvest. We’re gonna be history if they keep allowing (packhams) in,” said the ranch manager for John McCormack Co. Inc., Walnut Grove.

The Sacramento-based California Pear Advisory Board is on a campaign to ensure that doesn’t happen when the season starts at the end of June.
Despite expecting smaller production this year due to a cool, wet season, growers say the crop will be a good one. One that can compete with its South American adversary if needed, said the board’s executive director, Chris Zanobini.

The pear board anticipates this year’s crop to be 3.76 million 36-pound tight-fill cartons, down slightly from last year’s total of 3.82 million cartons. This year’s estimate is in line with 2001, when hail and frost damaged crops, and down from 2000’s high of 4.4 million cartons.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported in early June that f.o.b.s for 40-pound cartons of Argentine packham triumphs were $17-18 for 70-80 size, $15-16 for 90 size and $13-14 for 100 size. Anjous from the Yakima Valley and Wenatchee District, Wash., were $14-15 for 70-100s and $13-14 for 110-135s.

Last June, prices for anjous ranged from $13-14 for 70s-110s and $12-13 for 135s. Harvesting is expected to start the final week of June, Zanobini said, and he expects prices for bartletts to be pretty consistent with last year.

Overall, about 500-600 acres have been eliminated from last year’s crop, but Zanobini called it insignificant, blaming the lower production on weather conditions. Despite the reduced quantity, he estimates demand to be good because of its quality.

“Anticipation for the crop has been very good. A lot of research has shown that bartletts are the preferred variety. Add that to the fact that they’re not available all the time, and there is a lot of pent-up demand,” Zanobini said.

The California Pear Advisory Board has ramped up promotion and education efforts for the bartletts earlier this season to sway buyers and produce merchandisers into transitioning over from the imports earlier.

“If they are interested in making money, they’ll be ready for the bartletts when harvest begins,” Zanobini said.

Domestically, there doesn’t look to be much competition with anjous, Zanobini said.

David Elliot, owner of David J. Elliot & Son, Courtland, Calif., said he isn’t worried. His company will start harvesting July 14, hitting its peak a week later. Despite some bad weather, he said, his crop still looks good.