Though not experiencing the rapid growth the Washington organic apple industry has seen, production of organic pears in the Northwest is experiencing steady expansion entering the fall.
With about 80 percent of California’s three million cartons of pears already sold, the focus on pear supplies has shifted to Oregon and Washington. The Pear Bureau Northwest initially estimated the total summer and winter crop at about 17.6 million cartons, with that estimate revised upward by about five percent in August. With about 60 percent of the crop harvested, it appears that the total volume will be somewhere in the 18.2 million carton range.
Initially, it was estimated about 7 percent of the total would be organic, compared to only 5.5 percent last year. In cartons, last year’s total organic production from the Northwest was under one million cartons, while this year’s early estimate pegged the crop at about 1.2 million cartons, a projected 25 percent increase in production.
Conrad & Adams Fruit of Grandview, WA, is one of the grower-shippers fueling that growth. The firm’s Carrie Koerner said one of their growers had an orchard certified organic this year and the company itself has a new one in transition that should be certified next year. “We are increasing our organic acreage with a Bosc and Bartlett orchard expecting certification next year,” she said. “Organic pear production is increasing but not at the levels we saw for apples a few years ago. It is very difficult to grow organic pears. It is very much area specific.”
Koerner said while there will be increased supplies over the next several months with the winter varieties, the market continues to be one where demand for organic pears exceeds supply.
Echoing those sentiments was Brianna Shales of Stemilt Growers in Wenatchee, WA. With the summer pear varieties in storage and the winter ones in the midst of harvest, Shales said the next few months will offer retailers many different promotional options in the organic pear category. She noted that Bartlett, Anjou and Bosc should have good organic supplies, though not heavy volume. However, she added that the fruit, like apples, is not sizing as well as in previous years so there could be some good buys in the bagged category. And Shales said pears, even organic pears, need promotion to encourage sales.
The Stemilt representative said this year’s conventional Northwest pear crop began harvest in August and will be marketed through June with a one-two month gap before the 2018 season begins. On the organic side, she estimated the smaller supplies will lead to a longer gap at the end of the season, with supplies only lasting until late spring.
Shales added organic pear quality is good, and the market should be very steady as it almost always is. Shales repeated a line often used by northwest fruit growers when assessing their crop diversity: “We grow pears for our heirs.” The line, she said refers to both the extended life span of a pear tree and the predictable market price for the fruit.