(UPDATED COVERAGE, Aug. 26) Grower-shippers reported excellent quality on this season’s crop of California Asian pears, and prices should fall in September as higher-volume varieties begin shipping.

Western Fresh Marketing Services Inc., Madera, Calif., began shipping shinsuis, an early brown Asian pear variety, in late July, said salesman Joel Salazar.

By the week of Aug. 23, the company was ramping up volumes with hosuis and shinsekis, with shinkos and atagos expected to follow in September, Salazar said.

“We’re just starting to get into volumes,” Salazar said Aug. 24. “We’ll have big volumes of shinkos and atagos.”

Los Angeles-based World Variety Produce Inc., which markets fruits and vegetables under the Melissa's label, began shipping California Asian pears the first week of August, said Robert Schueller, director of public relations.

“It’s not a bumper crop, but volumes are steady,” he said. “We’re looking at a normal season. Weather hasn’t been a factor.”

Melissa’s was shipping shinkos in late August, with hosuis, the company’s dominant variety, expected to ship in September, October and November.

Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group expects its first arrivals of Tottori 20th Century pears from Japan in late September, said Karin Gardner, communications manager.

Volumes should be similar to last year, Gardner said. Oppenheimer expects supplies into February.

Salazar reported strong market conditions in late August, with cartons of some premium fruit selling for $14.

“We’re really happy with how sales have been going,” he said. “Prices have held very well.”

Schueller reported prices in the $9-15 range, depending on size. He expected markets to remain steady into September.

Kingsburg Orchards, Kingsburg, Calif., expected similar volumes as last year, said  Bob Maxwell, special projects manager. Prices of Asian pears, which Kingsburg markets as "apple pears," will not likely fluctuate much in coming weeks, Maxwell said Aug. 26. It's rare, he said, for prices to fluctuate, period.

"It might change by a buck over a whole year," he said. "They get locked in at a certain price, and don't have near the fluctuations of other fruit."

On Aug. 25, one-layer cartons of hosuis 12-16s were selling for $12-14 on the Los Angeles terminal market, about the same price as last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Markets will likely soften some when the higher-volume shinkos and atagos begin shipping, Salazar said.

Sizing has been a challenge so far this season, Salazar said.

“We haven’t had any huge fruit — 8s, 9s and 10s,” he said. “It’s been kind of disappointing.”

Fruit at the other extreme — 18s and 20s — also has been hard to come by, he said. Sizes have been peaking on 12s, 14s and 16s.

Sizes for Melissa’s have been peaking on 16s and 18s, just what the company wants, Schueller said.

Quality has been exceptional, Salazar said.

“We haven’t had a single complaint,” he said. “The color’s magnificent. It’s a great piece of fruit.”

Brix levels on Melissa’s Asian pears were in the 14 range, about normal, Schueller said.

Western Fresh expects to ship about 100,000 packs of California Asian pears this season, similar to last year, Salazar said. Shipments should last through 2010, he said.