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California pears looking at an early start

The warm spring in the San Joaquin Valley of California has moved the expected start date of California pears up 11 full days.

The 2012 California Bartlett pear crop started harvest on July 16. This year, Bartletts will begin harvest on July 5, with significant loading by July 9, according to Dave Parker of Rivermaid Trading Co.

Rivermaid is a leading pear producer in California with significant acreage in both the River and Lake districts. This will be the earliest Rivermaid has begun harvest in several years. In 2011, the pear season began as late as July 22.

"Many crops have come early this year, but this is pretty dramatic," Parker said. "There will be no waiting for these pears either. Rivermaid has conditioned 100 percent of what we shipped the last several years."

Pears are slow to ripen at the beginning of the harvest season. There are two ways to get them started. One is to wait for two weeks and leave them in storage. Pears will then ripen once they are brought to room temperature.

"That is not the best plan for shippers or shoppers," Parker said. "Nobody wants to wait. We don't want anybody to miss the selling opportunity. It's bonus money at the front end of the deal."

The fast track to a good, early season is to condition pears by introducing ethylene gas to fresh pears immediately after picking and prior to precooling and cold storage. This creates an extra 10 days of selling time with a fresh crop.

"There is a promotable crop on the trees and growing conditions have been superb," said Ken Carter, marketing director at Rivermaid.

In addition to the popular Bartlett pear, Rivermaid has a full complement of varietal pears. All varieties also will be coming earlier this year.