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Earlier cool conditions will not dampen California’s pear season

by Lora Abcarian | July 11, 2011

Although cool weather earlier in 2011 is expected to slightly delay the harvest of California pears, growers and marketers are expecting the season to progress in an orderly manner.

Crown Jewels Produce Co., headquartered in Fresno, CA, is one of the state’s larger pear shippers. The company represents Greene & Hemly Inc., based in Courtland, CA, a large pear producer that has been farming since the 1850s. Pears are grown in the state’s River District, Mountain District and Lake County, and varieties marketed are Bartlett, Starkrimson, Golden Russeted Bosc, Comice, Forelle and Taylor’s Gold.

When asked about conditions during the 2011 growing season, Atomic Torosian, a member at Crown Jewels, said, “It was one of the wettest, coolest springs we’ve had in recent history.” Weather has returned to normal patterns, however. The harvest is expected to begin around July 18-20, two weeks behind normal timetables.

Bartlett is the first variety to be harvested, and Mr. Torosian said that picking will conclude at the end of September. Other varieties will follow in normal progression through the end of October or the first week of November.

Mr. Torosian is expecting good-quality pears with good sizing this season. “The crop, particularly Bartletts, will be up 5-10 percent,” he told The Produce News in mid-June.

With consumer demand for pears continuing to grow, Mr. Torosian said that Greene & Hemly added 50,000 square feet of cold storage space at its facility. “It gives us the luxury of pear packing day and night,” he said. The Bartlett preconditioning program is gaining in popularity, he noted.

Pears, packed in recyclable plastic containers, bins and bags, are marketed throughout North America, Central America and Mexico under the “Tradition,” “King’s Taste” and “Heritage” labels. The lion’s share of the pears is marketed through retail outlets, with wholesale taking up the balance.

David Thiessen, sales manager for David J. Elliot & Sons Co. in Courtland, is equally enthusiastic about the coming season. Pears are grown in the rich soil of the Sacramento River Delta. According to Mr. Thiessen, the only impact of the cool, wet production season is a slight delay in the onset of the harvest.

The company’s manifest is comprised of red pear varieties, Bartlett, Golden Russeted Bosc, Comice, French Butter and Seckel. “We plan to start red pears approximately July 15, followed by Bartletts around July 25,” Mr. Thiessen told The Produce News. “Golden Bosc [follows] by the second week of August. All other varietal pears will be available by mid- to late August.”

Regarding pear quality and sizing, he said, “Quality will be good. However, sizing could be a challenge at the beginning of harvest. As we progress on the harvest, sizing will improve.”

David J. Elliot & Son markets pears under the “Daily,” “Delta” and “Have One” labels. Approximately 80 percent of pears are sold to retail, and the balance is marketed to wholesale.

In addition to domestic markets, David J. Elliot & Sons markets pears in Canada and Mexico. “We ship to Central America and Asia as well,” Mr. Thiessen added.

Data collected in the California Agricultural Resource Directory 2010-11 provide an historic snapshot of California pear production. In 2009, Bartletts were grown on 10,000 acres: 10 percent less than in 2008. During 2009, the yield per acre was 20 tons at a value of $398 per ton. A total of 200,000 tons were produced, and the total value of all California Bartletts was approximately $70 million. Of this overall volume, 70,000 tons were produced for the fresh market at a value of $404 per ton.

All other California pear varieties were produced on 4,000 acres, a figure comparable to the 2008 season. The yield was 13.8 tons per acre at a value of $422 per ton. In total, 55,000 tons were produced with a value of $23.2 million. A breakdown of all other California pear varieties produced for the fresh market was not included in the directory.