(Sept. 18) MILWAUKIE, Ore. — Shorter volumes should spell stronger markets for Northwest pears.

Shippers foresee lower volumes this season for both bartletts and winter pears. According to early estimates from the Pear Bureau Northwest, bartlett packouts could total 2.38 million 44-pound boxes, down 23% from last year’s 3.1 million.

Winter pear packouts have been estimated at 14.2 million boxes, down from last year’s 15.4 milion.

Bo Slack, sales manager for Peshastin Hi-Up Growers, Peshastin, Wash., said he doesn’t foresee any slowdown or hiccups in movement.

“Everyone is very excited about it, and this is the best start I’ve seen in a couple of years,” he said.

Kevin Moffitt, president of the Pear Bureau Northwest, said the bartlett harvest got under way in mid-August and was near completion. The shipping season could run into January.

The anjou harvest began in mid-September, Slack said.

PRICES

In mid-September, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported the following f.o.b.s for U.S. No. 1 bartlett pears from Washington’s Yakima Valley and Wenatchee district: 70-90s, $20, 100s $18, 110s $14-15, 120s $13-14 and 135s $12-14.

The same time last year, it reported the following prices: 70-80s $20, 90s $18, 100s $16, 110 $13-14.50, 120s $11-12 and 135s $10-11.

Slack said early shipments of anjous were selling in the low $20s.

Moffitt attributed the shorter crops this season mainly to a cool spring during blossom and pollination.

With this season’s smaller crops come smaller size profiles for many shippers.

Gerry Jessup, vice president of marketing for Diamond Fruit Growers Inc., Hood River, Ore., said while last season anjous peaked on 80s, this season peak sizing will be 90s and 100s. As a result, fruit sized 80 and larger should fetch more premium pricing this season, he said.

One exception to the trend could be boscs, which probably will peak on 80s, Jessup said.

Both Jessup and Slack reported clean crops.

Besides lower production, Northwest shippers also could benefit from strong movement for the California deal.

Though California has 200 more loads of stocks as of mid-September compared to the same time last year, the state started its season 700 loads heavier, Jessup said.

California’s crop got off to a good start because imports from Chile and Argentina didn’t linger in the market too late, Moffitt said.

Jessup said California’s shorter bosc crop this season also should bode well for the Northwest.

FREIGHT

As always, the Northwest pear industry should face seasonal challenges with freight.

Jessup cited the challenge of getting truckers willing to go to Texas, which has limited backhauls this time of year. In October and November, Northwest pear shippers also face competition for trucks from Christmas tree business, Moffitt said.

Slack said pear shippers were talking more about using rail as an option. In mid-September, Peshastin planned to ship its first Amtrak load of pears to Montreal, he said.

Two drawbacks are that retailers’ logistics often don’t work well with rail, and rail cars haul larger capacities than buyers often want, he said.

While U.S. consumers are more attracted to larger-sized pears, the smaller Northwest pears are often exported, with much of them going to Latin America.

Slack said Peshastin begins shipping to Argentina, Venezuela and Brazil about mid-October. Financial woes could pose challenges for the Argentine market, including the ability to secure loans, he said.

Meanwhile, the Northwest is working to open another door for exports in Cuba. Moffitt said the pear bureau will have an exhibit in Havana during a food and agribusiness exposition there Sept. 26-30.

This season, for the first time since the embargo, the Northwest industry will ship bartletts and anjous to Cuba, he said.

He expects the first customers to cater to the tourist trade and hotels that have begun developing in Cuba. In the next couple of years, the Northwest could send five to 10 containers a year to Cuba, Moffitt said.

“Not a huge volume initially, but it’s a long-term venture,” he said.

Industry reports are that Cuba used to be a good market for the Northwest pear industry, especially for the comice variety, he said.

Slack said he was excited about the potential Cuba and other new markets could have for the industry.

“The Cuba deal, I foresee it in the next 10 years being one of our No. 1 markets,” he said.

Less optimistic was Jessup. Cuba might want to open trade to develop the U.S. as a fruit export market, he said, but Cuba doesn’t have the capital to buy U.S. product, he said.