Weather, labor supply smile on pear harvest in HR valley

Off to market: Bins full of Anjou pears from Hood River go quickly from orchard to stores as the pear harvest in the valley hits its stride.

Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea
Off to market: Bins full of Anjou pears from Hood River go quickly from orchard to stores as the pear harvest in the valley hits its stride.

Orchard workers are busy this time of year bringing in fruit, with the mainstay Anjou and Bartlett harvests all or nearly done and “looking very good,” said Mike Doke of Columbia Gorge Fruit Growers.

“We’re ahead of where we were last year; the picking is ahead, and conditions are so much better compared to the smoke and heat of last year. We have some nice fall-type mornings, and overall, it is turning into a good picking season,” he said.

Bartletts are done, and while the size was slightly smaller than last year, “it was still a nice fruit, and a lot got shipped,” Doke said.

“The Anjous are looking incredible,” he said. “In Parkdale, they don’t quite have the size as the rest of the valley, but are still good quality.”

He said the 2018 weather patterns have benefited the harvest.

“Short of a May hail and lightning storm in the mid valley around the Dethman Ridge area that caused some damage, everything has looked good in the Hood River Valley,” he said.

Hood River County is the largest pear-growing county in the United States. Much of the harvest is shipped out fresh or put into cold storage for distribution and sale throughout the year. This year’s harvest is estimated to yield 20.2 million standard boxes (average 44 pounds per box) of pears from Washington’s Wenatchee and Yakima districts and Oregon’s Mid-Columbia and Medford districts, according to Pear Bureau NW.

Doke noted that unlike 2017, “labor is in good supply,” thanks to 100-200 workers in the valley with federal H-2A visas, a program for foreign workers who are allowed to work locally under strict when-and-where contracts.

“It’s been a valuable tool,” Doke said. “With unemployment at 3.9 percent, it’s tough to find workers.”

Overall, “things are very good on the ground,” but concerns loom over trade tariffs and their impact on local growers’ income from overseas sales, Doke said. Many cherry farmers who depend on the Chinese market took big hits this year, he added.

“The pears have only now started to go to market, so we do not know the full impact yet, and winter pears we will not know for another nine months,” Doke said.

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