Even before the earliest blossoms fell to the ground this year, Naumes Inc. pear orchards in Josephine County were visited by an unwanted visitor.

Even before the earliest blossoms fell to the ground this year, Naumes Inc. pear orchards in Josephine County were visited by an unwanted visitor.

Even though temperatures didn't really dip all that low in late March, 125 acres of Naumes orchard blocks outside Grants Pass, where the company grows Comice and Bosc pears, were hit hard by Pseudomonas syringae, a super-cooling bacteria that hangs in the air in lower elevations.

"We had some pretty severe damage, which surprised me," said Mike Naumes, president of Naumes Inc. "The super-cooling bacteria is ever-present along the rivers, and when conditions are cold and wet — which they were — it can cause damage."

The blossom blast caused by the bacteria turns the pistils and blossoms black and sabotages fertilization.

"Almost every blossom in Grants Pass was affected," Naumes said. "Quite frankly, I was very surprised. I was kind of shocked. I didn't think there would be damage at the temperatures we had."

For frost protection, Naumes employs wind machines and adds sprinklers as the mercury drops.

"Usually, we look for it (Pseudomonas syringae) the first week of May, because in Grants Pass it usually gets warmer in April and colder in the first part of May," Naumes said. "I think it got a lot colder earlier this year."

Despite the setback in Josephine County, Naumes anticipates a fairly normal year for pear production in the Rogue Valley.

"All in all, the crop is shaping up OK," Naumes said. "I don't think we're looking at a bumper crop. We're coming off a pretty large crop from last year, and you don't often get back-to-back big crops."

Today, Naumes works 2,500 acres, including 1,600 in the Rogue Valley. At its high point, the family grew 7,500 acres of pears and was among the biggest growers anywhere. Mike Naumes figures his company is still among the top five.

The roughly 6,000 acres — about half of what it was 50 years ago — in overall pear production in the Rogue Valley is dwarfed by the 15,000 acres in the Hood River Valley. The difference, however, is the size of local operations.

"In Hood River, a 200-acre grower is considered big," Naumes said. "I don't think there are growers bigger than 300 or 400 acres there."

Naumes has methodically trimmed acreage in Washington and, more recently, in California, where it sold off two of its holdings last year.

"They took out all pears, cling peaches and persimmons, and kept only the cherries," Naumes said. "We're packing the cherries for them."

Naumes said a labor shortage during last fall's harvest delayed some of the pears getting to storage and, ultimately to market.

However, South American import crops, which typically show up in early spring, have been delayed coming out of Chile and Argentina, Naumes said.

"Chile was hit by a pretty severe freeze, and so the pace of stone fruit, apples and pears ... is down."

Harry & David spokesperson Rhonda Klug said the gourmet food and gift company's South America imports escaped the weather damage and avoided issues brought on by a massive fire in the port city of Valparaíso.

"Our fruit was shipped prior to the fire," she said.

Harry & David will have another 100 acres in production this year, as new plantings come on line, Klug said. The new acreage will boost the company's total to 1,729 acres.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness, friend him on Facebook and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.