(Oct. 1) WENATCHEE, Wash. — An estimated 13% increase in this year’s Oregon and Washington pear production doesn’t have marketers worried, and a 60% increase in export shipments through the end of September bodes well for the winter pear crop as far as growers are concerned.

Green anjous, the largest-volume domestic pear, have been available since mid-September, but shippers are emphasizing anjous in export markets and keeping bartletts at the forefront of domestic marketing programs.

That will change in coming weeks as shippers undertake their annual multivariety “pear-a-rama” ads, which typically feature three to six varieties, including bosc, comice and winter pears like seckel and forelle.

On Sept. 30, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported 44-pound cartons of size 70-90s bartletts from the Wenatchee and Yakima growing districts were $18-20.50, and 110s were $13-14. Cartons of anjous from those areas were $16-18 for size 70-90s, $15 for 100s and $14-15 for 110s.

Matt Prater, sales manager for Dovex Fruit Co., Wenatchee, said pear prices have a tendency to drop as fall approaches, but bartlett prices have remained strong and should continue to hold in the coming weeks.

With the larger anjou crop, however, there’s more flux in the market than shippers would like.

“You can sell anjous out there for $24, and can probably buy them for $16,” Prater said. “It’s a sloppy market.”

“We’re looking at a large crop of all varieties of winter pears,” said Gerry Jessup, vice president of marketing for Diamond Fruit Growers Inc., Odell, Ore. “But we’re also seeing large sizes and a clean crop. Anytime you have a large crop, particularly with the imports coming in February and March, that’s a concern, but the fact we have large sizes is a good sign.”

“We have a good run of sizing — we’re not plagued with small fruit,” Prater said about the winter pears varieties. “We understand there are some growing areas with smaller fruit, but we’re seeing large sizes. We have 80s and 90s, and we’re happy with that size of fruit.”

RIPENING PROGRAMS

When discussing domestic programs, shippers are quick to turn to the industry’s recent love affair with ripening programs.

Kevin Moffitt, president and chief executive officer of the Pear Bureau Northwest, Milwaukee, Ore., said efforts, including hiring a fruit conditioning expert that consults with shippers, are paying off. In the past two seasons, many northwest pear shippers are installing ethylene gas ripening chambers.

“We’ve seen some anjous already in domestic markets, and mostly those are the conditioned pears,” Moffitt said. “It helps give us a quicker start to the season.”

Even with an expected crop of 19.7 million 44-pound cases of pears this season, retailers should be able to manage the increase, in part because ripe fruit brings repeat customers, Moffitt said.

Stemilt Growers Inc., Wenatchee, finished its anjou harvest Sept. 28, marketing director Roger Pepperl said. While bartletts remain the strongest domestic performer, Pepperl said anjous and boscs will see seasonal promotions beginning in November.

Pepperl also credited ripening programs for sales boosts.

“We think we’re going to have a huge domestic demand because of the ripening rooms. Stemilt added a ripening center last year, and this year, we’re seeing a lot of people follow our lead,” Pepperl said. “Quite honestly, that makes a huge difference. We have retailers on that program already, we had good success last year and we are seeing a dramatic jump this year.”

EXPORT FACTORS

Moffitt credited the export boost to several factors: higher demand in Brazil, weaker U.S. dollar that makes Northwest pears cheaper when imported and a European drought that is expected to trim that pear crop by 10%.

With 84% of the domestic pears grown in Washington and Oregon, Moffitt said U.S. pear shippers will be able to capitalize on the larger domestic crop.

Jessup said companies that own shipping vessels will likely raise their rates, possibly quashing some incentive to take advantage of the gap in exchange rates.

“The reason exports are becoming so important in this scenario is that quite often they’ll take smaller sizes,” Moffitt said. “We were a little concerned at the beginning of summer about the fruit sizing up, but the bartletts are peaking at 90. We have a full manifest of sizes and the quality is excellent this year.”