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Good year for Rogue Valley pears, but market is soft

Pear growers rated this year’s harvest in the Rogue Valley from good to perhaps a little light. But a soft market has left at least one orchardist wondering if he will continue.

“If we don’t make more on pears this year, we will perhaps take out the orchard. For nothing we could do nothing. Maybe as early as next year,” said Ron Meyer, who has worked the 100-year-old family orchard in Talent for six decades.

“I didn’t hear any really big negatives. Some folks said the yield was light, others said the yield looked good,” said Rick Hilton, entomologist with the Oregon State University Extension Service in Central Point. “It was a very early crop. The harvest was accomplished in record time in part because we started early.”

Harry & David’s comice pear crop size was slightly below average, but the bosc harvest came in a bit above average, reported Matt Borman, vice president of orchards. The company has 20 orchards across the valley with 1,912 acres in pears and another 67 acres of peaches. All of Harry & David’s fruit goes to its packing house. Items that don’t meet the standard for gift packs are donated or sold for local processing.

Hilton described the pear market as soft. Most pears in the U.S. are grown in the Pacific Northwest, and it looks like a big crop, so that means prices won’t be high, he said.

“There really weren’t labor issues,” said Hilton. Growers have learned how to use the federal H2A program that brings out-of-country workers to the valley, houses them and then returns them home, he said. Harry & David maintains long-standing relationships with independent workers from throughout the region who regularly return for harvest, said Borman.

“The other growers had a good harvest, but they are not making money. Many are thinking about taking out their trees. There’s no money there,” said Meyer. The H2A program adds about 30% to his labor costs, and that can’t be passed along in the soft market.

Meyer Orchard is no longer packing its own pears, and that was done this year by Diamond Fruit in Hood River, but may be done next year by Naumes, the only company that packs locally apart from Harry & David, which packs for its own uses.

There was some hail impact early in the season but otherwise it was fairly normal, Hilton said. Growers had ample irrigation water to work with, he noted.

A relatively mild winter for a second year in a row helped the crop avoid significant threat from frost, Borman stated. Beautiful summer weather meant no issues with blistering heat, he added. Hot weather during bloom can increase the threat of fire blight.

More rainfall than normal in September didn’t hurt the crop, as pears don’t suffer from rain, Meyer reported, and even proved beneficial. The psylla pear bug, which affects his orchard, can leave a honeydew on pears that causes soot-like discoloring stains. But the rains washed away the dew to take care of the issue. Untreated psylla sucks the sap, damaging foliage, flowers and fruits, diminishing the crop and can harm the tree.

Harry & David took some of his comice pears, said Meyer, while his Bartletts went to Del Monte for canning. Bosc constitutes about half the orchard’s production, and there are also Anjou and a new variety, Best Ever, a late keeper that can be held in cold storage until next June.

Pear orchards totaled 3,800 acres in Jackson County, according to Oregon Department of Agriculture figures. Grapes totaled 2,850 acres, while hemp was reported at 8,579 acres for this year.

Little planting of pears has been done recently, although Hinsdale Orchard planted some on Fern Valley Road near Phoenix, said Hilton. Harry & David started adding peach and pear acreage in six orchards across the valley in 2014 following a 10-year break, Borman reported.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

File photoVolunteers harvest pears in a Latter-Day Saints orchard .