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Fresh cranberry supply expected to drop over 20 percent

by Joel Gebet | September 06, 2010
What a difference a week makes.

On Aug. 25, the cranberry industry expected supplies for the 2010 fresh cranberry crop to be in line with last year's harvest. However, after an Aug. 31 meeting of the Cranberry Marketing Committee in Wisconsin, those numbers have been revised, and supplies are expected to drop 20 percent from last year’s figures, which were approximately 333,000 barrels according to a July report issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

David Farrimond, executive director of the Cranberry Marketing Committee, told The Produce News Aug. 25 that he expected production to be somewhere between 290,000 and 300,000 barrels, approximately the same levels as last year’s harvest, with good quality predicted for most growing areas. But after the Aug. 31 meeting, Mr. Farrimond revised those numbers to 275,000 barrels, due in large part to hail damage in Quebec.

"The fresh estimate was lowered by the committee to 275,000 barrels," Mr. Farrimond told The Produce News. “Seems to be a quality problem. Canadian fresh [cranberry production] was hit by hail, so the amount coming into the U.S. has been lowered.”

Mr. Farrimond said Aug. 25 that due to an uptick in pricing for fresh cranberries, combined with a decrease in processed fruit prices, growers have been looking to switch back to growing fresh cranberries. A July report issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service showed that prices had jumped almost $9 per barrel for fresh cranberries over the past two years to $76.

That, combined with increasing sales of fresh cranberries by growers directly to consumers via the Internet or through agri-tourism and an increasing interest in fresh cranberries among consumers in the European Union, will help “volume pick up in fresh sales going forward,” he said.

“We’re getting signals from importers that the fresh fruit market is starting to move,” he added, noting that about 51,000 barrels of fresh fruit were exported in 2009, compared with 48,000 barrels in 2008.

Mr. Farrimond said Aug. 25 that overall quality for the 2010 season “looks pretty good from what I’ve heard, and I haven’t heard anybody say there is not good quality.”

He noted that Massachusetts had recently experienced several weeks of dry weather, and growers were increasingly concerned about their water needs. But a spate of wet weather at the end of August eased those concerns.

“It’s been raining for three or four days here, and that’s the dangerous thing with fresh fruit: They can’t harvest it if there is a heavy dew in the morning. It has to be dry, at least here in Massachusetts,” he said, noting that the state’s growers dry harvest their fresh fruit. “I’m sure they are watching their bogs. Early this spring, it rained a lot worse than it did now — about 10 to 11 inches in a two-day period. They are watching as we get closer and closer to the actual harvest to get the water off the bogs.”

Tom Lochner, executive director of the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association, told The Produce News Aug. 25 that he had spoken with some of his fresh cranberry grower members, and they seemed to think that there is a pretty good crop coming, which is reflective of the state having a pretty good crop overall. “It has been a real good growing season here. We’re in very good shape in terms of the vines, and we’ve had very little winter damage. We’ve come out a winner,” he said.

Though Mr. Lochner noted that it has been a wet growing season in Wisconsin, “overall, the quality is pretty good out there. The fruit is sizing up nicely, and we anticipate that it will be going into harvest as well.”

He said that about 3-5 percent of the state’s cranberry crop is destined for the fresh market, and a dozen or so of its 250 members were involved in the fresh end of the deal.

There has been “a lot of effort on the fresh fruit side of things such as reinvestment in packinghouses,” Mr. Lochner told The Produce News. “The growers have put a lot of money into optical scanners and sorting equipment in the past couple of years, and I think consumers will see and have seen a marked increase in the quality of the fruit they are seeing in the bags — especially with color, which is much more consistent. I think we’ll see growers continue to work on those types of improvements and focus on quality.”

He continued, “A couple of the fresh fruit operations have been involved in some planning to expand their production base, and those will be coming online in the next two to three years. Hopefully that will put some more fruit out there with some of the newer varieties that have come out.”

The National Agricultural Statistics Service’s report on the upcoming 2010 cranberry season released Aug. 17 forecasted an overall crop of “7.35 million barrels, up 6 percent from 2009. If realized, this will be the second-largest production on record, and production forecasts are up from last year in Massachusetts and Wisconsin, but down in New Jersey, Oregon and Washington.”

The report continued, “Production in Wisconsin is forecast at 4.35 million barrels, up 10 percent from 2009. If realized, this will be the second-largest production level on record for Wisconsin. The Massachusetts cranberry forecast is 1.95 million barrels, up 7 percent from 2009. New Jersey expects a crop of 530,000 barrels, down 5 percent from 2009. The Oregon cranberry forecast is 385,000 barrels, down 10 percent from last year. The Washington crop is forecast at 135,000 barrels, 16 percent below last year.”