(March 3) Northwest pear shippers are optimistic they’ll see a steady market throughout the end of the season, particularly if projections for fewer imports from Chile and Argentina hold true.

Washington and Oregon, which produce about 85% of the nation’s pears, moved two-thirds of the Northwest’s winter crop as of Feb. 27, according to the Pear Bureau Northwest, Milwaukie, Ore.

Even though overall production of fresh market pears jumped 10% from the 2002-03 season, 27% of the overall crop is left, only two percentage points higher than last year at the same time.

“Demand has been pretty good, and we’re up 4 or 5% in our domestic shipments over last year, and exports are up 20%” said Kevin Moffitt, president and chief executive officer of the bureau.

INCREASED BOSC PRODUCTION

Remaining supplies of boscs, which were 888,000 44-pound boxes in late February, compared with 232,000 boxes last year, is the main concern among shippers right now.

Moffitt said bosc production jumped about 30%, and red anjou volumes increased 8% to 10%. Green anjous should last through June.

“We’d like to be out of the boscs the first of April, but with a crop that size, it’s not going to happen,” said Gerry Jessup, sales manager at Diamond Fruit Growers Inc., Odell, Ore.

Instead, those supplies might linger a month longer, he said.

On March 1, cartons of anjous from the Yakima/Wenatchee district of Washington were $12-14 for 70-130s. Bosc cartons were $14 for 70-90s and $8-10 for 135s, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Bartletts from Argentina were $22-24 for 70s and 80s, compared with $20 a year ago.

At the same time last year, controlled-atmosphere anjous from Washington were in the $13 range for larger sizes and $12 for 110-120s.

The industry is counting on a reported 26% drop in production in Chile and Argentina to give U.S. pears a boost during the spring import season.

In addition, a strong Euro is luring Southern Hemisphere shippers to Europe.

The Oppenheimer Group, which imports pears and apples from New Zealand, is informing customers about possible tighter supplies this summer.

“The Argentine and Chilean seasons are beginning, and we’re already seeing the influence of the strong Euro,” David Nelley, Oppenheimer’s apple and pear category director, said in a news release.

“The bartlett pear season is shipping out quickly with smaller volumes of fruit available,” Nelley said in the release. “This could well continue throughout the Chilean apple and pear marketing period and into the New Zealand pipfruit season, which begins in late March.”

ANJOUS EXPECTED TO FINISH STRONG

While U.S. bosc supplies will be challenging, some shippers, including Dovex Fruit Co., Wenatchee, will have to regulate their anjou movement to maintain supplies through the season.

“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t finish strong as an industry on anjous,” said Dovex sales manager Matt Prater. “That market should be stronger than it is, but we should see it getting better.”

Although most export markets are switching to Southern Hemisphere fruit, Moffitt said exports to Mexico, the largest importer of U.S. pears, should remain strong.

Out of the 4.7 million 44-pound boxes shipped outside the U.S., 1.8 million went to Mexico.