Northwest pear growers learned this week they have front-door access to the biggest market on the planet for the first time.
Nearly two decades after a protracted effort to gain entry to China, U.S. pears are officially sanctioned. The region's pears previously have trickled in via Hong Kong buyers, but now the door is open — especially for Red Anjou and Starkrimson varieties.
While only about 5 percent of the pears grown in the Rogue Valley fall into the red pear category, the residual benefits aren't lost on Mike Naumes, president of Naumes Inc.
"It has the potential to be a nice large market for Northwest pears," said Naumes, whose family holdings reach from the Sacramento Valley into Central Washington. "Having more markets and better distribution can positively affect the price, because it tends to keep the supply in line with demand."
Hood River and Wenatchee districts — where Naumes operates about 800 acres — are both major Anjou producers.
The Comice and Bosc varieties that comprise the majority of Rogue Valley production have yet to gain favor in China.
"They just don't know Comice over there, and with Bosc they don't like the color," Naumes said.
He anticipates that a green-skinned winter variety picked in mid-September, Packham Triumph, could fare well.
"They store real well," Naumes said.
The region's pears are now sold in more than two dozen countries — from Scandinavia to Dubai.
"Our exports have skyrocketed in the last 20 years," he said.
Naumes doesn't expect a local rush to plant red pears.
"There have been a lot of plantings of Red Anjous, especially in Hood River," he said.
The U.S. first officially requested access to Chinese markets for American pear growers in 1994, said Kevin Moffitt, president and CEO of Pear Bureau Northwest.
Based on exports to Hong Kong and Taiwan and the overall size of China, Moffitt said the country could easily rank among the top five export markets within two or three seasons.
The Pear Bureau has begun engaging Chinese importers and retailers about market access, the current pear crop outlook, and the varieties grown in Washington and Oregon. It will seek out importers and retailers who have handled Washington apples and California table grapes.
The bureau plans promotional programs in Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou.
Jeff Correa, the Pear Bureau's international marketing director, said between 25,000 and 40,000 44-pound boxes could be shipped to China by mid April.