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Pear harvest late, but could be large

The 2011 Rogue Valley pear harvest is shaping up to be among the latest on record.

It also could be one of the largest in decades.

Growers and scientists now anticipate the red pear harvest to start Aug. 20, Bartletts the last week in August and Comice on Sept. 10.

"I believe we're not at the latest ever, but we're projecting within a few dates of the latest ever," said Oregon State University horticulturist David Sugar, of the Southern Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station. "The primary determinant of how long the growing season is going to be is in the first month after bloom," he said. "The cold late April and May affected us the most. Most of the pear harvesting will be in the month of September, but it's expected to go into October. The hope is for a long, warm fall."

With Associated Fruit's orchard operations vastly truncated, the industry reeling from a frost-bit 2010 crop and some orchard blocks being torn out, local expectations were weren't high. But Naumes Inc. is expanding its packing operations in anticipation of bumper crop.

"We're projecting we'll probably pack around 1 million boxes of pears this year," said Mike Naumes, president of Naumes Inc. "Actually, the industry total will be fairly close to normal.

Naumes Inc. has leased the SOS packing house, owned by Mike DeSimone, on Stewart Avenue, and will handle pears from Associated, Meyer Orchards and a handful of independent growers.

"We felt to get all the different varieties packed at the right time, we needed more packing (space) and with a large crop we simply needed more facility," Naumes said. "I think everybody thinks the pear industry is just dead, but if we get through the thunderstorms, we'll have a nice crop right up to normal or higher than normal."

Bill Eckart, agriculture consultant and former general manager for the defunct Fruit Growers League, said combined with Harry & David production, whose gift pears are not part of the commodity market, the numbers are strong.

"Even when I was running the association, we were doing the equivalent of 1.2 million, including Harry & David," Eckart said. "The pressure now is to move it quickly and sell early in the season."

Naumes Inc., one of the largest pear producers anywhere with 1,700 acres in California, 2,100 acres in the Rogue Valley and 750 in Washington, normally begins picking in early July.

"It's late everywhere," Mike Naumes said. "We haven't even started on red pears in California, and we have started as early as the last week of June there. It's almost three weeks late now."

Although the delay means it will take longer to get fruit to market, it could also mean there will be less holdover fruit from 2010 and foreign imports.

"A lot of time, you never gain back the market you lose," Naumes said. "It depends on what is in the marketplace at any time."

He said there are still some green Anjou pears from the Wenatchee District and imports.

"But by the time we come to bat," Naumes said, "it should be fairly clean."

Growers managed to avoid scab fungus that often comes with wet springs. A year after local growers lost 60 percent of the crop to frost, the unknown variable is fruit size.

"We have a nice, full crop of everything, but our big concern is whether fruit will size up due to the wet spring and summer," Naumes said. "That's the $64,000 question."

The educated guess is the fruit will be a size or two smaller, which translates into a lot of money in the course of a million boxes.

"It kind of depends on what everybody else has in other districts," Naumes said. "But everyone is up against the same thing."

Peaches are also late, about 10 days later than average, with harvest expected in late July. Local 49er peaches should be ready to pick the fourth week in August.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email business@mailtribune.com.

Gabriel Rodrigues fills a box with pears from an Associated Fruit orchard off Payne Road in Phoenix. file photo - file photo