Next time you bite into a sweet, juicy pear, keep in mind there’s an excellent chance it was grown right here in Oregon. The state of Oregon ranks second in the nation for pear production after Washington, producing about 35 percent of all fresh pears sold in the United States.
Thanks to its role as Oregon’s largest fruit crop (and the eighth-largest crop overall in the state), the pear was named Oregon’s state fruit in 2005. Around 200 Oregon family orchards grow pears, together producing about 474 million pounds of pears annually.
“Pears thrive in our mountains and valleys, where there are long hot days and cool nights. The ash soil from our volcanoes is also excellent for drainage and pear trees,” says Kathy Stephenson, Pear Bureau Northwest marketing director. “Oregon communities work together to create long-term success. Medford and Hood River have been a mecca for pear trees since the mid- to late-1800s. Agriculture has deep roots and a rich history in these communities. Growers, workers, packers, shippers and families share a bond that is essential because it supports the entire pear production process.”
Pine Grove Orchards
Ten varieties of pears are grown in Oregon, the largest volume being Green Anjou, followed by Bartlett, Bosc and Red Anjou. At Pine Grove Orchards in Hood River, the Green Anjou – also known by its French name “d’Anjou” – is king.
“Between 50 and 60 percent of pears grown in Hood River are Green d’Anjou,” says Ken Newman, co-owner of Pine Grove Orchards LLC. “The Green d’Anjou is world-famous for being grown in Hood River.”
Newman and his wife, Kelli, dreamed of living the country life and traded their Portland city life for Hood River in 2003. They wanted a few acres with chickens and a garden.
“Our plan backfired. We bought a 65-acre pear orchard and learned quickly about growing pears,” Newman says. “Several years later, the Brachers – my family from Eastern Oregon – partnered with us, and now we own and lease 175 acres. We grow over 5 million pounds of pears annually. Our annual production would cover a football field with pears about four feet deep.”
Oregon pears are harvested by hand in August and September and shipped all over the United States and beyond. About one-third of Oregon pears are exported to other countries, including Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, India and more.
“We pick the pears when they are green and hard because they ripen after they are picked,” Newman says. “We store them in cold storage at 31 degrees, which suspends the ripening. Once you bring them to room temperature, they ripen in a few days.”
A trick to knowing if a pear is ripe is to push gently on the neck. If the neck of the pear is soft, it’s ready to eat.
“Pears really have two personalities because you can eat them when they’re crisp like an apple, or you can let them ripen until they are soft, sweet and juicy,” Newman says. “The biggest challenge for producers is getting pears to consumers in a ready-to-eat condition, much like avocados or bananas.”
Laura and Mike Naumes of Medford both grew up working in pear orchards with their families and met through the pear industry.
“We were friendly competitors in marketing – I sold my family’s pears, and Mike sold his family’s pears, apples and cherries,” Laura says.
The couple married, and in the mid-1990s, their two families merged their businesses into one company – Naumes, Inc. Today they farm about 2,500 acres in Oregon, California and Washington, producing about 30,000 tons of pears each year across the three states. In addition to growing pears, the family also packs and ships them.
“Each pear is picked by hand. This is very hard work,” Laura says. “Workers use 12- to 14-foot ladders and wear a picking bucket that weighs 40 pounds when full of fruit. When the bucket is full, the pears are carefully emptied into large wood or plastic bins that when full, weigh about 1,100 pounds.”
The bins are loaded on trucks and taken to a refrigerated warehouse, where they are sorted and graded for quality. Samples are taken to ensure excellent quality.
“After sorting, they make their way to a pear sizer that drops pears by weight into different tubs to be packaged,” Laura says. “Pear packers then either wrap pears in paper or put pears in trays or bags. The final package makes its way down a conveyor to be marked with variety, orchard harvested from, date packed and more. The packages of pears are put on pallets and stored in refrigeration until they are ordered by a store. A truck delivers them to a supermarket.”
Oregon’s pear crop is primarily sold fresh in grocery stores, providing the highest return for growers.
“However, about 20 percent of the crop is moved to the canning and juicing industry in the Northwest, where a healthy market helps improve grower profits,” Stephenson says.