Good Fruit Grower

December 2011

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Markets shrink for upscale pear Is Comice a luxury people can no longer afford? by Geraldine Warner Oregon. Trouble is, consumers no longer seem willing or able C to pay the price for this venerable pear variety that costs more than other pear varieties to grow, Meyer says. And retailers aren't always enthusiastic, either, because Comice is a tender variety that requires special handling. He estimates that 60 percent of Medford's Comice pro- duction has traditionally been sold in gift packages— many of them in the luxury gift baskets of Medford-based Harry and David. Comice is the perfect pear for that mar- ket because it requires at least 30 days of cold storage to reach its best eating quality and is at its prime at Christmas, he said. omice is sometimes referred to as the Queen of Pears, because of its superlative eating quality. "It probably has the best flavor of the whole gamut of pears," is the assessment of Ron Meyer, a pear grower at Talent near Medford, Comice is the perfect pear for gift boxes, but the gift business has declined. But the gift business has fallen on hard times because of the recession. Harry and David is going through Chap- ter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, and Medford's Comice growers are wondering how they're going to get a high enough return on their fruit to make it worthwhile pro- ducing them. Two years ago, there was a surplus, and some Comice pears were sold on consignment, Meyer said. "When you run into that sort of competition, it's devastating." Mike Naumes, president of the growing and packing operation Naumes, Inc., in Medford, said that over the years his company had had a contract to supply Harry and David with Comice pears but has been preparing for the day when Harry and David would not take as many. The company will have about 70,000 to 80,000 standard cartons of Comice to sell this year—about half the Medford district's volume. For Apple, Pear and Cherry Growers is now free! "We have some marketing plans in place to handle the additional amounts we will have to market," he said. "One of the big problems with Comice is we get a certain amount of Fancy grade fruit, and that's the one that's really difficult to market." Naumes has been working to expand the distribution of its Comice pears to supermarket chains. Because it's a fragile variety, the company is selling them in packages with overwraps, in clamshells, and in Eurotrays with individual socks, for example. "We're trying to do a lot of different things to improve the quality of the Comice on the stand," he said. Supermarkets But Meyer said that even in grocery stores, people shy away from Comice because of the higher price. "In this economy, where the shopper is more frugal, they seem to be reluctant to pay the difference between a d'Anjou and a Comice, so that's hurt us. It's too bad, because if some- one tries a Comice pear—even people who don't like pears—generally, they like them. "There's still a market," he added, "and it would be a good market if we had our production balanced with the market, but right now, it's been out of balance. We've had more Comice pears than we can sell to the clientele that will buy them at a reasonable price. There's a good market for them in upscale markets, but that's limited. It's not mainstream for sure." If you're like most growers, you really don't know about packing costs and prices beyond the return you get from your packer. Until now, there was no reliable way to get the whole picture. Now there is. Prices: compare varieties, pools, grades, organic and conventional and more. Costs: shop packing charges on your computer without ever leaving the farm. Performance: compare returns per bin & returns per pound against other farmer's results. Profits: "What if" analysis shows what you would have made with the same crop at a different pool or different packer. Farming analysis: build year-over-year records and measure the efficiency of your farm. Be a better decision maker — get more information. Join us today…it's free. You just have to be a farmer with returns to add to the data base. We'll enter them for you if you need assistance. Logon at and use promo code FREE. For more information, call Sherry at 503 931-5953 or email Bring your returns to Booth #178 at the Hort, and we'll enter them for you at the show. 44 DECEMBER 2011 GOOD FRUIT GROWER Large crop Last year's crop was relatively short because of frost damage, but this season, Pacific Northwest growers were expecting to harvest their largest Comice crop since 1994. The Medford district's crop is estimated at more than 155,000 cartons, up from 88,000 last season. Although Medford produces only 6.5 percent of the Northwest's total pear crop, this year it was expected to produce more than 50 percent of all the Comice pears. Expensive to produce There are several reasons why Comice is expensive to produce, says Meyer, who has 20 acres of Comice in his 220-acre pear orchard. First, the variety is naturally slow to come into production. He's tried to overcome that by using the precocious Provence Quince rootstock at higher densities than traditional plantings. But even mature Comice trees don't yield as well as other varieties, and Meyer's found that trees on Provence Quincy aren't productive after about 20 years, whereas trees on seedling can continue profitably for many more years. Bear Creek Orchards, which supplies pears for Harry and David, its parent company, has more than 1,500 acres of Comice pears and is by far the largest producer. It also has some Bosc, but no other pear varieties, according to Matt Borman, Bear Creek's manager of horticulture and technology. Borman said high-density Comice plantings tend to yield about 10 to 11 tons per acre, which is probably a third less than it is with typical production with other pear varieties. And, Comice has a delicate skin that can easily be blemished by russet or sun rash, so it requires courtesy pear bureau northwest

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