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2015 appears to be profitable year for pears

An early bloom, drought conditions, triple-digit heat in June and July and then a smoky August put Rogue Valley pear growers to the test.

Nonetheless, spurred by cannery and export demand, 2015 should go in the books as a solid year for production and profit.

"It was a challenging year from a lot of different angles, but overall we wound up in good condition," said Doug Lowry, CEO of Associated Fruit. 

Some growers have completed the harvest, but larger operations have a couple of weeks to go.

"We had a good quantity of pears, some varieties were excellent and some weren't so excellent," said Mike Naumes, president of Naumes Inc., who grows 1,600 acres of pears in Southern Oregon, with overall holdings in California and Washington that push agricultural production to 2,500 acres.

Growers also saw orchard crews depleted when pickers made their way to firefighting lines in Oregon and other western states.

"I think we're probably a week behind where we would've been," Naumes said "I don't think we have quite enough pickers, and it's delayed some of the harvest."

Hot weather combined with limited access to water kept fruit size down, Naumes said. "Some irrigation districts had a fairly long rotation before we could get water. But in Washington apples and pears are down a size or two generally across the board."

The slightly smaller fruit, however, actually fares better for export, he said.

"The Northwest is producing a manageable crop," said Scott Martinez, vice president of sales for Rivermaid Trading Co. "Going back seven, eight, 10 years ago, when the pear industry hit the 20-million box mark, we were concerned whether we could market that large of a crop. But there are many more markets worldwide now than there were 10 years ago. We're simply exporting a lot more of the pears, and that's helping us to maintain a decent market."

The region's pears will find their way to Central America, Dubai, Israel, China and India.

"It takes an average of 45 days once the container leaves Seattle," he said.

Martinez said weather and soil conditions favored California output, where orchards produce 30 to 35 tons per acre, compared to 18 to 22 tons per acre in Southern Oregon.

Bartletts, which generally wind up in canneries, where they are mixed into fruit cocktail, are fetching higher prices this year, Martinez said.

"There is a huge cannery demand both in California and worldwide," he said. "They have been in a low inventory position for a couple years."

As a result, Martinez said, field delivery for Northwest cannery pears has been around $340 per ton.

While there were many obstacles to clear during the growing season, the Rogue Valley saw little thunderstorm activity accompanied by destructive hail.

Of the major varieties, Bartlett pears followed early projections, Martinez said.

"Toward the end of the harvest they really made up some of the size they gave up during the high-heat period," he said.

Comice fruit had a good appearance, which bodes well for Harry & David, which brands the variety as Royal Riviera pears.

Bosc, which comes off the trees at the end of harvest, had both good coloring and finish.

Not all varieties fared so well. Red and green anjous, among the first to ripen, suffered cork spot, a calcium deficiency leaving a brown mark on the skin.

"The pears were baked on the tree," Naumes said.

As long as there was adequate irrigation, said Talent grower Ron Meyer, the orchards performed.

"I think it will be a profitable year," said Meyer, who has been tending pears for six decades. "The quality is very good, and so has been the packout percentage. If 80 to 90 percent of your packout is first or second grade, you're bringing in more money."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/EconomicEdge.

In this undated Mail Tribune file photo, workers pack Bartlett pears. This year's pear crop wasn't a record-setter, but growers say it will be profitable.