YAKIMA — 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, Sept. 15, 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 go?
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.