As new varieties of apples have increased their presence in Washington orchards and on the nation’s grocery store shelves, pear growers are slowly but surely expanding their offerings.
With most of the 2023 crop harvested, growers and agriculture officials say Bartletts, Boscs and Anjous remain the three dominant types of pears grown in the Yakima Valley. But a few specialty pears such as Comice, Seckel, Forelle and Concorde have made their way into area orchards.
“Some new varieties are being tried out in the state,” said Jon DeVaney, president of the Washington Tree Fruit Association. “Like the trend that we’ve seen in apples with more club varieties and new varieties being introduced, the pear industry is looking at varietal development as a priority.”
Planting has started on some of the newer varieties. Pear trees grow more slowly and take longer to get established, “so that’s a slower trend to move forward than it is in apples,” he said.
Organic pears also are a growing sector of the industry, DeVaney said, with about 12.5% of this year’s Northwest pear crop produced and marketed as organic.
“That’s an important part of keeping up with consumer demands,” he said.
2023 crop on par with recent harvests
DeVaney and the state tree fruit association estimate that 15.2 million standard box equivalents (for pears, a 44-pound box) worth of pears will be harvested this year in Washington and Oregon, which he said was “on par” with pear harvests in recent years.
Those two states are home to 87% of the U.S. commercial pear crop, according to statistics from the Pear Bureau Northwest.
“Pears tend to be a little more consistent in their production,” DeVaney said. “They are influenced by weather, like any other agricultural crop, but … a lot of apple varieties, for example, have what’s called biannual bearing – where they have sort of on and off years, with heavy and light crops. Pears tend to be more consistent producers.”
Area growers agreed with the WSTFA’s assessment of the 2023 crop, most of which was picked between mid-August and mid-September.
Linda Sloop of the Upper Valley’s Sloop Orchards said Friday that her crop of Bartlett and Anjou pears already was picked, and workers were finishing the Bosc trees last week.
“It’s going well – we’ve got a decent crop,” Sloop said. “Probably similar in size to recent years, or maybe a little bit more.”
Rob McCormick oversees his 240-acre family farm of cherry, pear and apple trees near Selah. As he walked through his blocks of Red Anjou pear trees Saturday, he said this year’s crop has been good.
Among his 30 acres of pear trees, just short of 1 million pounds of Bartletts were picked this year, and most of them will be packed by the nearby Matson Fruit Co.
“The Bartletts will be canned or processed, one way or the other,” McCormick said. “But the Anjous will be either sold fresh or stored and packed fresh. I think the red color helps make them popular.”
Where do the
Pears have long been a popular fruit for canning, whether by individuals or commercially, DeVaney said, and that remains true today.
“Canned pears are still an important part of the pear industry. The fact that you get all of the nutritional value of the pear when it’s canned is helpful, and there’s a large food service segment for pears,” he said.
“The industry has seen some improved processor pricing for pears, which is helping the growers,” DeVaney added. “But the most profitable sector really is the fresh market, and that’s where the focus is, on continuing to grow consumption of fresh pears.”
Selling fresh pears involves a bit of marketing and education from the WSTFA, including providing online recipes for pears in meals and desserts and telling consumers when a pear is ready to eat.
It often takes several days after it is picked for a pear to fully ripen, and DeVaney said customers can gently press on the neck of the pear, where the stem is, to see if it is soft enough to eat.
“That’s an educational effort, because pears do need to be fully ripened after purchase to make sure they are in prime eating condition,” he said. “Unlike apples, which once you buy them at the store they’re fresh and ready to eat, pears might have to wait a couple of days.”
Mexico remains the No. 1 pear export market, with Canada another popular destination for the region’s pears, according to statistics from the Washington State Tree Fruit Association.
Statistics for the 2022-23 season, the most recent available, show exports of Anjou pears were the most popular variety, with 3.3 million standard 44-pound boxes of Anjous among the 4.4 million boxes of pears exported from the Northwest.
Anjous accounted for 74% of all pears shipped in 2022-23, with Mexico receiving 83%, or 2.7 million boxes, of Anjous over that time frame.
Canada was the most popular destination for Bartlett and Bosc pears, but those amounts were much smaller, with 604,000 boxes of Bartletts and 195,000 boxes of Boscs shipped north in 2022-23.
The Caribbean region, South American and Central America are the next three most popular destinations for Northwest pears, the WSTFA statistics show.
Overall, pear exports saw a 5.3% increase between the 2021-22 and 2022-23 growing seasons, with shipments from the Northwest increasing from 4.2 million to 4.42 million.
“Roughly the same percentage of the crop is getting exported, with problems such as exchange rates and supply change disruptions over the past two years. We’ve had some headwinds on pear exports,” DeVaney said.
“But with Mexico being our No. 1 pear export market, the ratification of a revised NAFTA agreement has provided some much-needed stability, so with that No. 1 market, we can have some predictability in our access there,” he added.