Growers report ‘variable’ Bartlett, Anjou harvest

Crop volume looks fine but russet markings could bring down prices

September 10, 2005

Russeting took the polish off the Bartlett pear crop picked in August in Hood River County, but growers are hopeful for a hearty harvest of Anjous, starting this week.

As Bartlett picking ends in most of the valley, the age-old problem of spotting known as “russeting” is widespread, diminishing the marketability — but not the taste — of the pears.

“Fruit finish is not outstanding, mostly related to the wet weather we had in the spring,” said Steve Castagnoli, horticulturist with Oregon State University Extension Service.

“Fruit size is pretty variable, and the total volume is somewhat variable around the valley but in general it’s a little down,” he said.

Hood River County is at the cusp between the end of harvest of Bartletts and the start of Anjous, the two varieties that form the bulk of the valley’s pears.

Orchardist Craig McCurdy said, “Certain locations are doing really well. Other locations we had some marking from the spring. We had a couple of cold nights and the moisture added up. We’re getting russeting we normally won’t have.” McCurdy said the situation is worse in the lower valley, where he farms Bartletts and Anjous off Tucker Road, than in the upper valley. The Parkdale orchards owned by his father-in-law, Rick Blaine, are seeing far less russeting, McCurdy said.

“So far, so good,” said grower Denise Fischer of Columbia Ag on the west side of the valley. “Our harvest is fine. There’s a fair amount of russeting,” caused by “foul, wet weather this spring.”

The russeting “mucks up the pear so it’s not pristine,” she said.

Fischer added that these pears won’t be U.S. No. 1 grade, but “there is still a market. We just won’t get a premium price.”

Overall fruit quality is “slightly under for Bartletts,” according to Bob Wymore, production manager at Diamond Fruit in Odell. “We just started Anjous, and indications are the size is good but they are not as clean.”

Anjou time gives the packing house a bit of a breather, as summer pear Bartletts need to be placed in cold storage immediately, while winter pear Anjous keep better in the packing house.

“We don’t have to run them (Anjous) over the machinery as fast. They can take longer to process. We work less Saturdays and less overtime,” Wymore said.

Castagnoli and McCurdy both felt that the hot and dry weather in July and August had little effect on the crop.

“We lost a little size because of the heat. But I think we’re making that up in the last few weeks,” McCurdy said.

“Fruit size could suffer if fruit growers are not keeping up with watering, but I don’t see it as a problem,” Castagnoli said.

Steve Bickford of Bickford Orchards in Pine Grove said, “Our volume is going to be bigger than last year, but the quality is going to be down.

“There was more marking on the fruit, particularly russet marks, that were caused by the wet spring. We’ll probably pack more fancy-grade pears this year,” Bickford said. “There will still be more U.S. No. 1s, but there will be an increase in the number of fancies.”

Fancy grade pears are lower quality than U.S. No. 1, which means that there will be a lower price. Fischer said the russeting affects green and red anjous in particular, “but it’s not very noticeable on the Bosc, whose coat is brownish anyway.”

McCurdy said his Anjous are generally looking healthy, depending on location.

“The ones on the lower level are not as clean as I’d like them, it just comes with the year,” he said.

Castagnoli said that “in general, the Wenatchee, Wash., pear region has cleaner pears this year, so if they come in with a real clean crop Hood River will be picked second place.”

Anjous are average or below average, he said.

“It’s kind of spotty, and again that is related to spring weather during bloom and pollination,” Castagnoli said. “It’s hit or miss to some degree throughout the valley. Things are just more variable than in past years.”

Pickers are dealing with the tiny pest known as psylla, which produces a sticky residue on pear tree leaves. Cloudy, cool weather, with hints of moisture returned to the valley on Friday morning, a welcome development from McCurdy’s point of view.

“We could use some rain to wash the trees off,” he said.

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