(Jan. 25) Shut out since December 2003 because of the fungal rot disease alternaria, Chinese ya pears may soon make a reappearance in U.S. markets.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has established a work plan that would again allow approved orchards to ship ya pears to the U.S., said Mark Powers, vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, Yakima, Wash.

Powers said Jan. 5 that U.S. and Chinese authorities met in December to finalize a work plan.

Chinese ya pears were first introduced to the U.S. market in 1997, according to the USDA. Imports peaked in 2003 at 7,128 metric tons, or the equivalent of about 356,000 44-pound cartons.

“My understanding is that at least one Chinese orchard has qualified, but Chinese authorities are making a decision that they won’t ship anything unless all of their facilities qualify,” Powers said.

Powers said although the ya variety pear is an asian pear type that is not commercially grown in the U.S., there is concern that Chinese pears could take shelf space from U.S. pear growers.

He said the industry had a chance to provide input to the USDA on its work plan.

“I think that APHIS has made a decision that they believe the work plan will mitigate against the alternaria, and we are waiting to see if that is truly the case or not,” he said.

Powers said the industry has no data to show that the work plan is faulty but said the industry is concerned because the disease is difficult to inspect for, since it remains latent in the fruit and is expressed in storage.

Powers noted that U.S. pears are generally packed in boxes immediately after harvest, and that would make any fungal rot disease particularly devastating and expensive.

Powers said Chinese authorities also are interested in exporting the fragrant variety asian pear to the U.S.

In fact, Kevin Moffitt, president and chief executive officer of Pear Bureau Northwest, Milwaukie, Ore., said the USDA published a Federal Register notice Dec. 23 that announced a work plan for fragrant pears would become effective Jan. 23.

“We’re watching it closely. While the Chinese varieties don’t compete directly with U.S. pears, they do compete for consumers’ dollars,” he said. “We view every item in the department as a potential competitive threat for the future," he said.