Pears handle the heat, exceed harvest predictions

Employee Manuel Gutierrez adds pears to the display at Johnson Orchards' shop in Yakima last week. This year's pear harvest was larger than forecast, despite long periods of extreme heat this summer.

YAKIMA — Proving resistant to early-summer heat, the regional pear crop is coming in better than early-season estimates, according to figures released by pear industry officials.

Local growers, who recently wrapped up the pear harvest, concur with data issued by Pear Bureau Northwest.

“Prices should be good this year — the quality is excellent,” said Eric Johnson, co-owner of Johnson Orchards in Yakima. “Pears like heat, and respond well to water. The last week or 10 days (before harvest) they can really gain some size.”

The pear industry released its 2021 harvest estimate on Sept. 7, about a month after summer varieties like Starkrimson and Bartlett pears began coming off the trees in Oregon and Washington. The two states are home to 87% of the U.S. commercial pear crop, PBNW officials say.

The industry’s fresh pear estimate was 16.1 million standard box equivalents for 2021, which is very close to a four-year average.

But updated figures released Oct. 15 by the pear bureau show more than 17 million standard box equivalents have been harvested so far, with not all of this year’s crop tallied, said Jim Morris, marketing and communications director for PBNW.

“The harvest is done — everything has been delivered to the packers — but they’re still busy cleaning and sorting and delivering orders,” Morris said. “A lot of varieties such as Bartletts will go into cold storage, so you’ll still see those available in stores through the spring.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Fruit and Tree Nut Outlook report, published in late September, predicted a pear crop similar to last year, with Washington’s output slightly less than 2020 due to June’s heat dome over the Pacific Northwest.

The USDA predicted the 2021 pear harvest to be 670,000 tons, down less than 1% from the previous season.

“Most pear trees are traditional trees — tall with large canopies providing shade; this may protect pears to some degree compared with new apple orchards, which are trained into a fruiting wall with little shade and with leaves pruned to maximize sunlight to the fruit,” the report said.

Johnson, whose family has operated an orchard in the West Valley area for several generations, said it appears this season’s pear crop was able to recover from early summer’s record heat and lack of rainfall. Rain late in the summer, just before the harvest began in mid-August, helped the quality of the fruit.

Among Johnson’s 2 1/2 acres of pears are Olympic Asian pears, along with the unique-looking Packham variety, a large, green and lumpy pear.

Longtime favorite varieties Bartlett, Anjou and Bosc pears came in well, too, Johnson said.

Kevin Moffitt, president and CEO of Pear Bureau Northwest, said many growers in the region saw similar results.

“Pear growers are reporting an excellent-quality crop this season with some saying it is the best they have seen in a decade,” Moffitt said. “The fruit finish for this year’s pear crop is outstanding with beautiful shape and high sugars. These attributes make for remarkable eating quality leading to a high level of consumer satisfaction.”

Morris noted that unlike other fruit, pears are harvested prior to reaching full ripeness. They remain firm when sent to stores, and ripen after a few days at room temperature.

“As soon as it gets soft around the neck, near the stem, that’s when it’s ready to consume,” Morris added.

The organic pear estimate is expected to come in at 1.94 million standard boxes, which is nearly 12% of the total projected Northwest crop, PBNW reported.

“The industry is passionate about providing consumers with the best possible eating experience,” stated Moffitt. “To meet consumer demands for sweet and juicy pears to enjoy one to three days from purchase, the industry continues to expand and promote the conditioning program, which is proven to increase retail sales and enhance the consumer eating experience.”

Pear Bureau Northwest is a nonprofit marketing organization established in 1931 to promote the fresh pears grown in Oregon and Washington. The Bureau represents over 800 grower families and provides marketing and merchandising expertise for pears.

Promotional campaigns for the 2021 season include an emphasis on generating excitement around summer varieties like Bartlett and bright red Starkrimsons, and using pears for back-to-school snacks, leading up to Halloween promotions.

PBNW has greatly expanded its online shopping programs at retail sites over the past season and will continue to do so throughout 2021-22 with banner ads and other shopper marketing promotions. Display bins with bright, attractive graphics will be distributed to retailers around the U.S. These bins utilize a QR code leading shoppers to short videos introducing the growers.

“Consumers continue to be very interested in knowing where their food comes from. These videos bring them right into the beautiful orchards of the Pacific Northwest to meet the growers who take such great care to bring fresh USA Pears to the marketplace,” said Moffitt.

For more information about the pear industry, recipes featuring pears in salads, hot cereal and even pizza, and more promotional campaigns, visit the Pear Bureau Northwest’s website at usapears.org.

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