David J. Elliot & Son predicts sound season for pears
David J. Elliot & Son — and its Stillwater Orchards farming operation — has been farming pears since the 1860s and is one of the last family-owned-and-operated pear grower-shippers in California.
The company packs only what it grows, allowing it to control the quality and safety from the orchard to the store shelves.
“It’s a family-owned-and-operated company, and pears are its life blood,” said Larelle Miller, sales manager for the Courtland, CA-based company. “It’s now on its sixth generation of the family farming, which is really exciting.”
Pears represent the majority of the company’s 1,600 acres, though it does a little with cherries, almonds and kiwifruit as well.
Bartletts, organic Bartletts, Golden Bosc, Reds, French Butter, Seckels and Comice are the pear varieties that David J. Elliot & Son works with.
“Having a mix of varietals and being a one-stop shop for whatever retailers need—whether conventional or organic—and able to be flexible with packaging and requests is the secret to success,” Miller said.
Unfortunately, California pears have lost some of their relevance within the industry in the last decade due to several factors, including imports and Northwest D’Anjous that sit on the shelves far longer than they should.
“When pears don’t ripen properly and they are out there 12 months out of the year, it causes confusion on what a ripe pear should be,” Miller said. “So, it’s important to educate the consumer on what a good pear tastes like and that Bartlett pears are a summer fruit.”
This year, there seems to be a good demand going into the season, with harvest expected to begin around the normal July 7 timeframe, with harvesting ending around mid-August.
“We’ve had a lot more retailers reaching out in late May and early June, because I think they are getting tired of the imports, and are ready for fresh crop California,” Miller said. “Years past, there have been so many imports, they didn’t have time to think about California, but the Southern Hemisphere crop had some quality issues this year and volumes were off, so it gives us a better window.”
Early estimates are that the crop looks really good on the tree, with the sizing strong and quality appearing great.
“It has a real clean finish right now, which is good,” Miller said. “We’ve had great weather. Overall, the crop volume could be down from last year, but there’s still plenty of pears and good demand for both fresh and canary, so it will be a competitive market.”
The target date for the end of the season is around mid-October when retailers jump ship and start buying from retailers in the Northwest, and that’s been a big challenge for California pear growers who don’t have the same marketing budget as those in the Northwest area.
Over the last two years, the Comice and French Butter pears have gained some popularity and demand, with increases in volume for both specialty pears coming in 2022. There’s also a rising demand for organic pears, which is why the company’s organic Bartlett pears increased trifold last year.
David J. Elliot & Son offers a variety of pack styles with everything from bulk and bags to give customers an option.
“Bags are definitely gaining popularity,” Miller said. “Pears have done well in a pouch bag; I think they travel better in a pouch than they do a poly-bag, and we’ve seen an increase in the two-pound bag.”
For the season ahead, David J. Elliot & Son looks to improve on what it’s been doing to continue to offer great service and high-quality pears for its customers.