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California pear production ready to ramp up

The California Pear Advisory Board released estimates for the 2012 pear crop, with 3.91 million 36-pound tight fill box equivalents expected for the fresh market. This translates to an estimated 70,404 tons of pears to be marketed.

David J. Elliot & Sons Co., headquartered in Courtland, CA, grows pears in the rich soil of the Sacramento River Delta. Sales Manager David Thiessen characterized weather during the growing season as "very good, near perfect." The company's manifest is comprised of Bartlett, Golden Bosc, Comice, French Butter, Seckel, Taylors Gold and red varieties.

"We expect to start the week of July 16 on Bartletts, reds around four to five days earlier, Golden Bosc the second week of August and all other varietals by mid-August," he told The Produce News. "We usually wrap it up by mid-November."

According to Mr. Thiessen, total crop yield will be down slightly this season compared to 2011. "However, our fresh pack will be up," he said. "Last year, we were hit by hail, which significantly reduced the amount of fruit we could pack for the fresh market. This year, the weather has been kind to us."

The company markets pears under the "Daily," "Delta" and "Have One" labels. Mr. Thiessen said that 70 percent of the company's volume is sold to retail partners, with the remaining split between wholesale and foodservice customers.

David J. Elliot & Sons sells approximately 20 percent of its pear crop to export markets in Canada, Mexico and Central America. "We are working on expanding more into Asia," Mr. Thiessen added.

Looking at facilities upgrades, Mr. Thiessen said, "We completed the construction of a new cold storage facility -- over 50,000 square feet -- for precooling and storing fruit. This will enable us to cool fruit quicker and have better control of the cold chain which will improve quality and shelf life."

David J. Elliot & Sons is in the process of moving some of its pear acreage from conventional to organic production. "This will take a few more years to transition," he stated. "But we will ultimately be able to offer organic Bartletts, Golden Bosc and red pears."

Atomic Torosian, managing member at Crown Jewels Produce Co. in Fresno, CA, expects to market more volume this season compared to 2011. The company, one of California's larger pear shippers, represents Greene & Hemly Inc., based in Courtland, CA, which is one of the larger pear producers and has been farming since the 1850s. Pears, including Bartlett, Starkcrimson, Golden Russet Bosc, Comice, Forelle and Taylors Gold, are grown in the state's River District, Mountain District and Lake County.

Mr. Torosian said that Greene & Hemly has ample cold storage to allow packing of pears around the clock. Bartletts can also be preconditioned at the facility.

"Weather has been favorable," Mr. Torosian told The Produce News. "We've had a little more wind than normal. We've had good temperatures. We're anticipating a good season and not much import carryover."

Overall, he expects 2012 production to be up 5-10 percent. "We'll be a little down on Golden Bosc," he commented, adding that the variety is alternate-bearing.

Starkcrimson kicked off the 2012 season for Crown Jewels, followed by Bartletts the week of July 9. Other varieties will follow in normal progression through the end of October or first week of November.

Crown Jewels' pears are marketed throughout North America, Central America and Mexico under the "Tradition," "King's Taste," "Lydia" and "Heritage" labels. The biggest share of volume is marketed to retail, with wholesale taking up the balance. Pears are packed in recyclable plastic containers, bins and bags.

The California Agricultural Resource Directory 2010-11 compiled data for California pear production for the 2010 season. That year, California was ranked No. 2 nationally for all pear production, accounting for 27 percent of national production.

According to the report, Bartletts were grown on 10,000 acres, a number comparable to the 2009 season. During 2010, the per-acre yield was 17 tons at a value of $388 per ton. The total value of California's Bartlett crop was approximately $66 million, down 6 percent from 2009.

In 2010, all other pear varieties were produced on 14,000 acres, also comparable to the 2010 crop year. The per-acre yield in 2010 was 15.7 tons at a value of $406 per ton. The total value of these pear varieties was approximately $89 million, down 5 percent from 2009.

According to the report, a total of 55,000 tons of Bartletts were sold to the fresh market in 2010 at a value of $531 per ton. Comparable data were not available in the report for all other pear varieties.

California pears are grown in the River, Mendocino and Lake districts, led by the Bartlett variety at 54,000 tons, followed by Golden Russet Bosc at 9,000 tons, Bosc at 2,268 tons, Starkcrimson at 1,602 tons, organic Bartletts at 1,449 tons, Comice at 648 tons, Seckel at 477 tons, French Butter at 180 tons, Sunsprite at 126 tons, Forelle at 95 tons and Taylors Gold at 92 tons. Other red varieties comprised 468 tons.