Although this year’s Northwest pear crop is not expected to set records, that doesn’t mean there aren’t high expectations for it.

“This could be the year of the pear,” said Suzanne Wolter, marketing director with Selah, Wash.-based Rainier Fruit Co., who said she might be overstating her optimism a bit.

“The fruit is clean, has a nice size, and it doesn’t appear the pears were in growing areas where we had hail.”

There will be a lot of fruit on the market, although it won’t be quite as dramatic as Washington’s record harvest of last year.

On Aug. 10, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued its estimate of the upcoming Northwest crop.

The USDA forecast a harvest of 653,000 tons — or roughly 29.7 million 44-pound equivalent boxes — for the region’s 2012 harvest. Oregon production is estimated at 233,000 tons — or 10.6 million boxes — and Washington, 420,000 tons — 19.1 million boxes.

Last year, Oregon produced 227,000 tons — 10.3 million boxes — and Washington, a record 457,000 tons — 20.8 million boxes. Oregon’s record is 255,000 tons — 11.6 million boxes — in 1997.

Total U.S. pear production for 2012 is estimated at 878,500 tons, or 39.9 million boxes.

The estimates match closely the forecast the Milwaukie, Ore.-based Pear Bureau Northwest issued in June, said Cristie Mather, the bureau’s communications director.

“There was some hail a few weeks ago (July 20-21) that affected the apple crop in some areas. However, that hail has not appeared to hurt the pear crop at all, so our original estimate stands pretty well as they are,” Mather said.

Last year’s record crop got off to a late start, but timing won’t be a problem this year, Mather said.

“Although it’s smaller than last year’s crop, it’s still going to be the fifth-largest crop on record, (according to) what the estimate points to,” Mather said.

The crop estimate exceeds the five-year average by about 2%, even though it’s 6% smaller than a year ago.

Growers are reporting few, if any problems.

“I think the one thing we have to be aware of is the California pear deal is having a lot of momentum right now, and you’re going to see that clean up fast and furious, and because of that, I think it’s going to put earlier pressure on our crop,” said Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers Inc.

As of Aug. 13, according to the USDA, 40-pound cartons of U.S. No. 1 grade bartlett pears from California were $26 for size 70s and 80s; $22-24, 90s; $20, 100s; $18-19, 110s; $17, 120s; and $16, 135s.

A year earlier, prices were $25-28 for size 70s; $25-27, 80s; $21-23, 90s; $18-19, 100s; $18-18, 110s; and $15-16, 120s.

“Last year, prices were off because of the late frost and because of the large crop,” said David Garcia, chief executive officer of Hood River, Ore.-based Diamond Fruit Growers.

With apple prices expected to be strong this year, pear prices are likely to follow suit, Garcia said.

“We’re hoping for an average to above average pricing for pears,” he said.

John Long, director of sales and operations for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos.’ Yakima, Wash., office, said he had similar expectations.

“There’s going to be good volume and the price will be good,” he said.

Doug Lowry, chief executive officer of Phoenix, Ore.-based Associated Fruit Co., said he expects a strong market for pears.

“We haven’t seen a strong market in a while, so we hope that’s true,” he said.