Summer pear harvest began in the lower valley this week, with winter pear harvest expected at the end of the month, said Mike Doke, executive director of Columbia Gorge Fruit Growers, in an email last Wednesday.
The earliest pick date for Starkrimson is Aug. 5, and Aug. 11 for Bartletts, he said. Winter pear harvest, such as Anjou, Bosc, Comice, Seckel, Forelle and Packham, “is expected to pick up the final week of August,” he said. Winter pears are those late-ripening varieties suitable for winter storage and year-round sales.
Diamond Fruit Growers President and CEO David Garcia said that company’s growers will begin picking Bartlett and Starkrimson pears within the week.
Overall, the outlook is good, with volumes up from 2017.
“This year’s pear production estimate is slightly ahead of 2017 — 7.4 million 44-pound boxes of pears are expected to be harvested this summer and fall, compared to 7.1 million last season,” said Doke.
Ashley Thompson, Tree Fruit Extension for Wasco and Hood River counties, said Monday afternoon the Bartlett harvest date is about nine days ahead of the long-term average. Pear picking usually begins around Aug. 16. Predicted harvest date for Anjou pears is Aug. 28, which is eight days ahead of average. She noted that harvest data goes back to 1944.
At Diamond, Bartlett and Bosc volumes are expected to be higher than last year, but Green and Red Anjous will be lower, said Garcia.
“The entire Pacific Northwest pear crop will be up from last year by over 16 percent,” Garcia said.
“It’s too early to say much about pricing (but) we hope that pricing on Bartlett and Bosc do as well as last year, and that pricing on Anjous improves from last year,” he said.
The recent heat wave could have an impact, Doke noted, as “extreme heat tends to curb fruit development.” A June thunderstorm over Dethman Ridge and Ehrck Hill Road caused “significant damage in a limited, central valley area.”
“It has been a dry growing season, which has given us a very clean crop,” said Garcia. However, if the heat continues, cork and scald could be seen in winter pears.
Thompson echoed that caution. “High temperatures may lead to sunburn on blush pears,” she said. “Heat and water stress may lead to greater incidents of cork spot, a calcium deficiency that primarily affects Anjou pears.”
So far, labor to pick the crop seems adequate, said Doke, with workers moving from cherries to pears. But that could change as the season continues.
“Labor shortages always occur in the late summer harvest, when agriculture employment swells by more than 50 percent,” he said. “Hood River County has about 1,200 year-round agricultural workers and adds 600 to 800 during harvest.
“Growers increasingly rely on the H-2A temporary agriculture program that allows farmers to bring in non-immigrant, foreign workers for agricultural jobs that cannot be filled by domestic workers,” he said.
“Labor will be an issue for the seeable future,” said Garcia. “Our growers have been using H-2A labor for the last four years, which has helped.”
Thompson said the cherry crop in Hood River “appeared to be very mixed.
“There was a light crop of some varieties in certain locations due to cool weather at pollination,” she said.
“However, some varieties had very heavy crop loads. Again, this was most likely due to the weather at pollination.”